2. Consider Free, Online Resources and Courses

You don’t need to start your program from scratch. There are many organizations in the higher education financial literacy space, from non-profits to for-profits, insurance and credit card companies, and banks that offer their programming to others. Even some universities make elements of their proprietary financial literacy programs available to others for free. For example, The Ohio State University actually offers its online lessons through iTunes.

Some of the good non-profit organization financial literacy sites include the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE), which has an online program called Cash Course. Cash Course can be offered as an independent self-paced class or can be instructor-led, and it can be customized for your institution. Another resource is American Student Assistance, which is aimed at helping students with school financing. Institutions can partner with ASA to offer the full array of features in their SALT program, including online courses.

Banks also offer financial literacy education. For instance, the online lender OppLoans offers OppU, a concise MOOC that is aligned with national standards and can be tracked by instructors. Bank of America offers Better Money Habits, which covers different life stages and lots of topics but is harder to navigate.

3. Offer Your Own Personal Finance Course—and Make It Truly “Personal”

Over my six years teaching personal finance, the content details evolved, but the basic subjects covered did not vary. This is what I suggest be included in every course:

  • A discussion of the psychology of money and how we make spending decisions.
  • How to physically manage money: banking, paying bills, safe use of debit cards, ID theft, helpful apps and fintech.
  • Concepts of budgeting and the notion of “paying oneself first” (saving).
  • How compound interest works on both investments and loans.
  • How credit works – specifically, credit scores, credit cards and student loans.
  • Savings and investment basics – from emergency funds to retirement accounts.
  • Enough about taxes, insurance, and housing costs for students to navigate in the world when they graduate.
  • Optional: job hunting and careers, which can include a discussion of negotiating salary and evaluating benefits.

Remember that every student comes into a class with a different level of financial knowledge, a different attitude about money, and a very different experience with money. One size will not fit all when it comes to creating a meaningful personal finance class. Here are some of the ways I make my class more personal:

  • Give credit for asking questions: have students post questions each week and address them during the following session.
  • Assign research projects that allow students to choose a topic of personal relevance.
  • Have students create a realistic financial plan for themselves.

Every effort an institution makes to help a student understand financial literacy will pay off in multiple ways. It can help reduce the student’s financial stress so they can concentrate more on their academics. It can help them get out of debt faster after college and help them build savings. And it can give them a solid base of knowledge that will enable them to make good financial decisions well into the future. And as the students win, so do the schools that teach them. By helping each student develop a strong foundation in financial literacy, institutions are setting them up to be a part of a financial success story, rather than the next negative headline.

About the Author:

Beth Tallman is a financial educator, freelance writer and consultant. She developed the personal finance curriculum for Oberlin College. She writes articles on personal finance and financial education, conducts student workshop, and develops finance curricula and educational content, including the financial literacy lessons for OppU. Ms. Tallman is the Treasurer of Ohio Jump$tart Coalition Financial Literacy Coalition.


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