Thursday, March 28, 2013
Wise and worldly readers, what do you think? Is financial literacy a potentially useful subject for a freshman seminar? Or is this all just dancing around the recession?
They need it before taking on loans. It may help students see the value of community colleges.
Another interesting application is the economics of buying a house with the intent of renting it to students. Many are unaware of property taxes and insurance costs on top of the mortgage interest.
Our college covers some of the credit card and savings topics you mention in the first math class where they learn about exponential functions, but the math need not be challenging if they are given the equation and own a decent calculator.
PS - We also lived by the "pay off loan as an investment". Sure beats what you get from a savings account or a CD. Another trick is to put a monthly car payment into a CU account after the car is paid off. After 5 years you can buy the next car for cash and you can't spend what you can't see.
In my experience, all types of students (4 year, non-trad, 2 year, grad students, etc.) have poor financial literacy skills and often bemoan the this when they see their student loans come due. But you generally can't get them to pay attention to loan issues (because the repayment is so far in the future for them) and planning for retirement NOW is even worse.
That said, I have gotten some traction with the more motivated students--you know, the ones who come to everything and are generally on top of their game. But the other 70-80% act as if you're the teacher in the Peanuts specials ("wanh wanh wanh-wha"), only without responding.
Student life divisions have all kinds of in-person and online programs about drug and alcohol use, sexual behavior, and civility/tolerance. Some of them are undoubtedly trying to put financial literacy into the mix. What I have not seen is whether any of these are effective (because it's hard to follow up directly after people graduate) or what the student participation rates are like. One resource that may be useful and/or cheap is: http://www.cashcourse.org/home/ which bills itself as a non-profit, free resource to assist students in building money management skills. I have not used this myself, but it may be that it could serve as the basis for the kind of course you're talking about.
While the comparison is not perfect, I can imagine that a mandatory (credit bearing) financial literacy class would be viewed by many in the same light. And there's a bit of an irony in making students pay to take a class on financial literacy.
Similarly, I would add (based on my own experience) that it's also hard to teach things to students that are mostly theoretical to them. When I graduated from school 20 years or so ago, I got an entry level job paying in the mid-30's, which was about 4 times more than the highest amount of money I'd ever made (That being my $8,000 stipend in grad school). But I also had a bunch of new expenses - I needed professional clothes; I wanted to furnish my apartment with furniture I didn't take out of the dumpster; and my social life now involved going to restaurants where I would spend $20 (it's more now!) rather than the $3 for the one beer I would get at the grad student bar.
What I really needed was someone to help me with financial literacy after I'd been working for about 3 months and would be better able to prioritize.
I also think it's going to be difficult to provide good advice concerning student loans to students in school because: (1) they already have the loans; (2) there often aren't good options to avoid the loans; and (3) most importantly, they don't know what kind of salary they will be making. (Not that one shouldn't explain the workings of these things, but I don't see it making a large difference).
I did some checking and I found out that Proprietary Art School where I work does indeed offer a financial mathematics course, but I think that the emphasis in the course is primarily on mathematics (things like interest and amortization) rather than on the dos and donts of one’s financial life.
Perhaps a financial literacy course could use mathematics as the basis, but concentrate more fully on what the student should do to maintain a sound financial future and to avoid getting ripped off in the marketplace. Some things that the course could concentrate on are listed below.
1. The importance of saving for retirement. Yes, the student is now a youngster, but someday they will indeed need to retire and they will have to figure out some way that they can continue to live indoors after retirement.
2. The retirement pension system. The difference between defined contribution and defined benefit retirement pension plans, and why the defined benefit pensions are rapidly disappearing.
3. 401(k), Roth 401(k), IRAs and Roth IRAs, and various other pension systems. Their advantages and disadvantages.
4. How the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation works. Can you count on it if your employer’s defined benefit plan (if it offers one) goes bust?
5. How compound interest works—exponential growth.
6. How Social Security works. Suggestions for strengthening or even saving it for the future.
7. Medical insurance and its hassles
8. How Medicare works. How to save it for the future. Difference between Medicare and Medicaid.
9. How the American federal income tax system works
10. The stock market
11. Financial derivatives, options, forwards, futures, swaps, credit default swaps.
12. How student loans work
13. How the credit score system works and why maintaining a good credit score is so important.
14. Buying a house.
15. Buying a car
16. Why payday loans are such a bad idea.
Wow! I am already excited! I would like to take such a course myself. Maybe all adults should do so as well.
Also, DD--okay, Matt--I was also at that conference. I wish I had known you were there; a lunchw/ you discussing higher ed topics might have been the most productive thing I attended.