This post is part of our celebration of Financial Literacy Month this April.
As discussed in an earlier post, both high school and college students are experiencing an immense lack of financial literacy education. However, an organization called Moneythink is looking to change all of that. Rather than providing a program for teachers to implement in their classrooms, Moneythink trains college volunteers to “serve as near-peer role models, college mentors, and financial coaches for local teens.”
This mentorship model not only gives students a break from their everyday learning routines, but it also provides high school students an opportunity to participate in an active dialogue about financial questions or problems they might otherwise ignore. Since the organization’s beginnings in fall of 2008, Moneythink has mentored thousands of students in lower income communities.
To learn more about this program, I caught up with Gabriel Denham, Co-founder and Director of Partnership (and a friend of CK) at the newly established chapter of Moneythink here in New York City at Columbia University.
CK: What exactly is Moneythink, and how is it different from other financial literacy programs?
GD: Moneythink is a student-run organization that was conceived in 2008-2009 in response to the economic collapse and increasing wage and opportunity gap that we are currently seeing between the upper and lower class in the U.S.
Since the official launch of the program in 2013, our aim has been to teach financial literacy to underprivileged high school students through mentorships and an intensive curriculum that has been developed over the better part of a decade. In addition to our in-school programs, our mentorship extends beyond the classroom through social media and our app, Moneythink Mobile.
CK: Boil it down for me. Why do students need financial literacy education?
GD: Moneythink began because students are not prepared for the real world. Only 14 states mandate personal finance courses, 22 require economics, and a whopping five test students on basic personal finance skills. Most students do not know how to budget, make smart purchases, or even save money for college. We, as college students, wanted to take it upon ourselves to address one of the greatest factors in the quickly increasing wage and opportunity gap. Teaching financial literacy is not only important for the kids, but it’s critical to the future of the country.
CK: How successful is the Moneythink program?
GD: Moneythink has trained close to 1,000 college volunteers to mentor more than 7,300 high school students in over 100 classrooms nationwide. Based on 2013 diagnostic and summative tests and surveys of 350 students, 65% of them felt more prepared for financial independence by the end of the program and we have seen a 62% increase in students' awareness of the dangers of credit card debt, a 46% increase in students' understanding of their parents' financial practices, a 31% increase in household discussions of money management, and a 30% increase in student familiarity with the financial aid process for college (FAFSA).
CK: How many schools are you working with? Are you region-specific?
GD: The organization itself is spread over the U.S. and currently has chapters at 32 colleges and universities. The Columbia University chapter, still in its infancy, is currently conducting a pilot program at the Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics, and we intend to focus our efforts there in the coming academic year (2015-2016). It's important to us that the students receive a great deal of face time and one-on-one mentorship; by working with only one or two schools at a time we are able to maintain a 5-to-1 student-to-mentor ratio. As our number of volunteers increases, the reach of our program can increase.
CK: At what age do you start to teach financial literacy? Why?
GD: We generally focus our program on high school juniors and seniors because they are the most in need of financial literacy. This is a critical point in their lives as they think about college or what job to pursue after high school comes to an end.
CK: Is there anything else you want us to know about Moneythink?
GD: In 2011, Moneythink was recognized by President Obama as one of the best new ideas for social innovation, and we were nominated the White House Champions of Change Award. In 2013, the Center for Financial Services Innovation awarded Moneythink its first major multi-year grant. As we continue to grow our program, we hope that the visibility that we’ve received so far can create a change within our educational system so that future generations can become more financially savvy at younger and younger ages.
For more information about Moneythink, visit www.moneythink.org.
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