By Jon Kroah
The average college student has 4 credit cards.” “18-24 year olds have the fastest-growing bankruptcy filing rate of any age bracket.” “You know something is wrong when the head of Citigroup says he’s not financially literate.”
Such were the eye-opening facts we heard this Thursday, April 2nd, at a financial literacy speaker event and policy workshop jointly hosted by the Roosevelt Institute’s Economic Development and Education Centers and Moneythink, a newly-formed financial literacy group at Columbia. David Anderson, Executive Vice President of Working in Support of Education (w!se, a New York-based financial literacy NGO), gave an eye-opening presentation highlighting the lackluster state of personal finance knowledge in the U.S. and the absence of well-funded public education initiatives across the country: for instance, he noted that the variety of financial products available to ordinary Americans has exploded over the last 50 years, and that the majority of spending on financial education comes from the nonprofit sector, with the government and the financial services sector lagging behind by an order of magnitude.
He also pointed out how a lack of financial know-how affects different groups of Americans: for instance, many college students choose where to go to school without a sound financing plan, and many domestic violence survivors are economically abused and left with little knowledge of how to manage their finances. What stuck with me most, however, was a study he cited suggesting that financial education best sinks in not when it’s delivered in a single class, but when the knowledge is refreshed over and over again.
Following the talk, the audience broke into small groups to brainstorm policy solutions: for instance, what (if any) standardized financial education programs should the government enact? How can we ensure that these programs instill lifelong practices, rather than just being another requirement in school? And how can we ensure that these programs provide sound information, rather than inadvertently serving the financial services industry’s interests at the expense of consumers?
To cap the evening off, we heard from Moneythink, a student organization that sends volunteers into underserved high schools to teach financial literacy. Having just started up on Columbia’s campus this semester, they described their vision for empowering high school students, and invited the audience to get involved as coaches. If you’re interested, feel free to hit them up at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A huge thank you to everyone who attended and made this possible!