The following article is a guest post from Laura Levine, president and CEO of the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy®
As we wrap up another Financial Literacy Month, it’s fun to look back at how far we’ve come; important to look forward at how much further we have to go; and compelling to look closely at how we’re making a difference.
A decade and a half ago, the National Endowment for Financial Education established “Financial Literacy for Youth Day” in conjunction with its High School Financial Planning Program.
Recognizing the groundswell of support beginning to build for financial literacy, NEFE turned the idea over to Jump$tart to promote April among its national partners first as “Financial Literacy for Youth Month” and later as simply “Financial Literacy Month.”
Congress recognized it officially with a resolution in 2003 and more recently, the month has also been recognized as “National Financial Capability Month.”
By any name, it’s been gratifying to see individuals and organizations across the country, united as we’ve raised awareness on the importance of financial literacy or capability, and the need for more and better financial education.
It’s been particularly encouraging to see the renewed focus on financial literacy for young people. President Obama’s current advisory council is officially the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young Americans. Other prominent entities, including the 22-agency Financial Literacy and Education Commission and the national Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy; have placed heavy emphasis on financial literacy for youth.
Experian was at the table as Jump$tart was forming—two decades ago—on the notion that we should educate young people about money before they start making independent financial decisions as adult consumers and are sometimes required to learn by trial and costly error.
And while many experts agree that the best financial education starts at home, there is also widespread recognition that not all families can or will provide their own children with a sufficient introduction to money management and that we must all work together to help provide financial education to students in school, after school, at home and in their communities.
In the early days of Jump$tart and the concerted financial literacy movement, much of our energy focused on what students needed to know about money and what skills they needed to develop. Consequently, we saw a rush to develop new programs and materials and assess how much students actually knew. We found it wasn’t much. We had our work cut out for us; but we knew we had started down the right path.
At the dawn of the 21st Century, innovators sought ways to utilize technology as a means of delivering financial education to more students and adults alike—to deliver it faster; more efficiently. We watched as technology made financial education more interactive, more engaging, and, presumably, more effective. Financial education was getting better and we were reaching more students; but still, there was much to be done.
In recent years, Jump$tart turned a good deal of its attention to the support of classroom educators—the talented and dedicated teachers who bring personal finance to life in their classrooms every day—because isn’t it an effective teacher who does more than impart knowledge and know-how?
Isn’t it an effective teacher who has the opportunity and ability to affect young lives?
That’s what Jump$tart believes. It’s what I believe, personally. Fortunately for us, it’s what our friend Maxine Sweet believes too, and in 2009, she not only prompted Experian to provide us with a generous grant; but also, helped to inspire the first national conference dedicated to the teaching of personal finance in K-12 classrooms.
The Jump$tart National Educator Conference, now in its seventh year, has introduced personal finance teachers from every state in the country to new approaches and information, a variety of resources, and each other—effectively giving every finance teacher, who may be the only one at his or her school, a nationwide network of colleagues.
Teachers who attended our most recent conference reported that, collectively, they would teach 38,654 students this year alone. Since most will go on to teach for years to come and since new teachers attend our conference every year; the impact will be exponential.
Just this April, we were so pleased to have had the opportunity to recognize Maxine Sweet, recently retired as the vice president of consumer education for Experian, with our William E. Odom Visionary Leadership Award. The award recognized her unique contributions to financial education, as well as to consumer education in her role with Experian.
With support from, and working alongside, Experian and many other partners from business, finance, education, academia, government, non-profits, and other sectors, Jump$tart will continue to promote top quality financial education resources, effective programs and techniques, and support for classroom teachers and other educators—including parents and caregivers.
Sometimes, when our critics question why we haven’t fixed our nation’s financial literacy problems yet, I’ve heard advocates remind them that financial education, like all education, is much more a marathon than a sprint. But I don’t see it as a race at all, as even a marathon has a finish line. I think financial education deserves a permanent role in the upbringing of young consumers.
Even as we work diligently to expand, improve, and evolve the way we conduct this education, we’ll never really be done; because every spring there’s a new class of graduates and every fall, there’s a new class of preschoolers.