Baruch College, The City University of New York

Teaching Financial Literacy

In October 2008, a small group of first year and second year Full-Time Honors MBA students at Baruch College brought up the prospect of coordinating a community service project in which they could use their business skills to make a difference. Although volunteerism is not an unusual interest among our students, they had not in recent years come up with a concrete effort as a class to commit to on an ongoing basis. With the financial crisis looming, and amidst news of “predatory” lending schemes and consumers making bad decisions, they decided that they could make a significant contribution to the lives of young people by teaching them financial literacy. Their interest was sparked and they believed they could have a strong impact by teaching New York City high school students; by introducing this population to the topic of financial literacy the Honors MBA students strongly believed they could start on a path of responsible decision-making. As graduate business students in a public university, they also felt a sense of community with city high school students.

This project was entirely student-driven. The MBA program office and the Dean’s office both enthusiastically supported the idea and entrusted the students to lead the way in crafting it. It is also important to note that the project was not related to any of their classes; indeed, many of the students involved were already immersed in other co-curricular activities such as clubs or competitions and eagerly took on this project as well.

Cindy Chang, a highly energetic and motivated first year student, pitched the idea to classmates in her cohort and the second year cohort. Given her drive, Cindy easily managed to get 20 student volunteers on board with the project. While they originally planned to create topics on their own, in their research of New York City high schools, they discovered that Junior Achievement New York actually had a financial literacy curriculum outline for high schools. Cindy reached out to Junior Achievement, which was happy to work with MBA students and with the idea of Baruch College hosting the event. This latter aspect was a nice touch for the high school students, most of who had not yet stepped foot on a college campus before.

After setting a date of March 20 for the program, the MBA students held several meetings to discuss expectations, review the curriculum with Junior Achievement, and delegate tasks. The Full-Time Honors MBA program committed funding for lunch for all program participants and secured the classrooms. Everything else was managed by the Honors MBA students. The Honors MBA program is a very professionally diverse group of students, and the financial literacy project benefitted from their contributions: a former program director at a youth social services organization had particular insights into the behaviors and expectations of 16-year olds; two former teachers offered methods to establish classroom decorum; others contributed their expertise in logistics as well as knowledge of finance, credit, and budgeting.

Each component of the program was team-taught by two MBA students in concurrent sessions, with each section taught twice. The remaining students managed movement between sessions as well as classroom decorum. The final program went as follows:

Activity 1: A Month in the Life. Budgeting: Students broke into small groups and played a budgeting game to track expenses in an average “month”, using a randomly assigned occupation and monthly salary.

Activity 2: From Dreams to Reality. Investments: Students learned the basics of different types of investments (savings account, real estate, mutual funds, etc.) and planned their own investment guides.

Activity 3: Your Credit, Your Future. Credit Cards: Students broke into small groups to discuss different scenarios with credit cards and decided the best course of action.

Activity 4: The Case of the Missing Identity. Identity Theft: Students learned what behaviors put their identity at risk, and how to prevent identity theft.

Activity 5: Protect Yourself. Insurance: Students learned the different kinds of insurance (automobile, health, etc.) and how they are used.

Junior Achievement distributed feedback forms to the high schools. Although feedback from the two participating schools has not yet been formally provided to us, the initial feedback on the day of the program from the high school students, their teachers, and Junior Achievement was uniformly excellent. In discussions among the MBA cohorts following the financial literacy program, plans were made to offer the program each semester as well as pursue other avenues of community involvement.

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