Financial Education

The Case for Adding Financial Literacy Readiness to the Curriculum of Every Student

by Gary L. Fisher

Mortarboard CC.pngAmong one of my passions has always been teaching, mentoring, and coaching. This is one of the primary reasons I chose the financial planning profession as a place to ply my trade. It offers that rare opportunity to make a difference and have fun, all while working.

For me it’s been a great ride, but as a practitioner of financial planning it’s always somewhat surprising how little of the basics of finance are taught in the primary education system. I think a class called ‘Financial Planning’ should be a requirement in Junior High/ Middle School, and a part of the core curriculum in all high schools.

That said, it’s particularly shocking when you learn (and remember) that it isn’t even part of most university curriculums, regardless of how lofty the degree might be.

I know for me it was not.

I managed to get a Bachelors Degree from the University of Michigan and a Masters of Science in Business Administration from Central Michigan University without even touching on anything that looked like Financial Planning.

That’s one of the reasons why I agreed to become a member of the Olivet College Adjunct Faculty in the Department of Business and Economics over 20 years ago. I thought it was great that a college was taking all of this financial education stuff seriously, and offering a degree curriculum. I wanted to be a part of it. Lately that role has evolved in to teaching a class or two each semester in the Financial Planning degree curriculum. It’s been a tremendous experience, and one that has proven to be incredibly rewarding both personally and professionally.

One of the projects I assigned to each class was that they go out and interview someone ‘over 40’ about either their estate planning situation, or their overall financial planning. The results were enlightening as almost all learned that the person they interviewed (typically parents or grandparents) were particularly lacking in preparedness, knowledge, and in some cases even interest in either area. This caused a high degree of consternation among the students to the extent that they were learning how important all of the facets of financial readiness happen to be. One student said, “How will my parents ever retire if they don’t take this serious now?” How indeed! 

One of the projects we covered in the aftermath of this project was to ask each student to identify three things: 1) what age they intended to retire (a fun question to ask ‘20 somethings’), 2) how much money they would need to have accumulated, and 3) how much they could withdraw from that sum so that it would be highly likely (better than a 95% chance) of lasting at least 30 years or more. The answers varied from a low of $500,000 to a high of 5 million. The interesting thing about this project was that the Millennials answers varied little from the quality of responses I typically get in a workshop filled with Baby Boomers! In fact, these particular Millenials will graduate from Olivet’s Financial Planning curriculum light years ahead in financial planning knowledge than that of previous generations of  of  Baby Boomers, or Gen X and Gen Y’ers ever did at the same ages.

I am a strong proponent of keeping the arts and athletics front and center in an educational setting. However, financial education is arguably far more important.  If you doubt it, just consider the vast number of professional athletes, entertainers, and rock bands that have squandered fortunes with poor money management and lack of financial acumen. It’s hard to play your way out of a hole you didn’t even know you were digging. Olivet remains one of the few colleges in the country offering a financial planning degree program. It’s hardly surprising that very nearly 100% of the college’s program graduates are offered excellent jobs upon graduation. In truth, that kind of foundational knowledge can only help in the future regardless of what industry the graduate chooses to pursue. For me, it’s an honor and a privilege to be called a Professor of Financial Planning, because I can’t imagine too many more important callings, or a better way I could use the knowledge I’ve taken nearly a quarter of a century to learn. If the children are our future, than we would all benefit by them being very astute financial mangers.•