Four Ways Digital Financial Education Is Improving Student Outcomes

21st Century Skills

Four Ways Digital Financial Education Is Improving Student Outcomes

from The MassMutual Foundation

By Dennis Duquette     May 1, 2018

Four Ways Digital Financial Education Is Improving Student Outcomes

In 2015, my organization embarked on an ambitious initiative to improve financial capacity for middle school students across the United States. Research found that by the age of 12, students had developed an economic understanding that was “essentially adult”—but they did not have the education or skills needed to tackle many complex financial decisions.

As of April, we have reached over one million students through the MassMutual Foundation’s FutureSmart program; we’re now halfway to our goal of providing two million students with financial education by 2020. The knowledge gains and behavioral changes we’ve seen at scale give me hope that young people are prepared to be smart stewards of their own financial futures. We have seen students’ scores on pre- and-post assessments rise from a D to a B. In addition, nearly 90% of students are taking the knowledge they learn home to the dinner table or using our companion app outside of the classroom.

However, it’s the individual stories from more than a million students, teachers, administrators and partners that most inspire and encourage me. Here are some of my favorite stories of real people having real impact:

1. Laying the Groundwork for Career Paths

We’ll start in Charlotte, NC with Araya, a sixth grade student at Eastway Middle School. Araya has been taking the FutureSmart course and learning financial skills as part of her Exploring Business elective. I had the opportunity to join Araya and her classmates at her school this past December. The class discussion ranged from understanding wants vs. needs to evaluating insurance options.

When the conversation turned to preparing for college and a future career, Araya lit up. “I want to be an orthodontist!” she told us. “My uncle was an orthodontist in 1866. He helped our family grow; at first we didn’t have anything—and now we do.” Her experience with financial education has helped her think about the steps she needs to take to achieve her dream. “My family is trying to build up more so that I can get my master’s degree to become an orthodontist one day,” she said. This fall, Araya raked leaves for $10 an hour to work toward her goal. “I’ve saved $100.92!” she told us proudly.

All Image Credits: Everfi

2. Empowering Students to Take Financial Control

Elliott Powell, a history teacher at California’s San Marcos Middle School, uses financial education to help his students set big goals. “One of the things I love about teaching FutureSmart,” said Elliott, who is also a Navy veteran, “is that it gives my students the opportunity to dream.”

San Marcos Middle is a Title I school. Elliott often sees his students falling into the cycle of poverty that surrounds them—without understanding the steps they can take to control their own financial futures. “One of the things I look at,” Elliott shared, “is how I can make the kids understand that budgets aren’t something that happen to them.” In his classroom, he focuses on the choices that seventh and eighth graders can make to influence their future. They talk about comparison shopping and using coupons to make a $15 allowance go a little further. They delve into the difference between debit and credit cards. “Kids are really interested in wants vs. needs,” Elliott laughed. “Try explaining to a seventh grader that a smartphone is not a ‘need!'”

Ultimately, Elliott finds that incorporating these real life examples into financial literacy lessons can spark students to take steps to set themselves up for success. “I wanted them to understand that you can break the cycle,” he said. “There is a way around it.”

3. Helping Families Navigate the U.S. Economic System

Financial education is reaching a generation of young immigrants at West Miami Middle School. Jorge, a seventh grade student, immigrated from Venezuela only two months before we spoke. Not only is Jorge’s family starting a new life in this country, he and his parents are navigating a new language as well as a new financial system. Because FutureSmart is also available in Spanish, Jorge was able to complete the program soon after matriculating at his school. Already, he told us, he feels more prepared to play a role in his family’s new financial situation in America.

“I know we have to stay well economically,” Jorge told us, in Spanish. “And it’s good for families to talk about economics.” Jorge now knows that he needs to keep up with his family’s bills and accounts. “More than anything,” he said, “when you share that kind of information, families can acquire the knowledge they need to improve their economic situation as they grow.” Jorge himself is actively saving. He collects movies, writes poetry, and is hoping to buy himself a brand new camera as he thinks about a career in photography. “Saving can help me in my student life and also in my future,” he concluded.

4. Making Financial Education a Middle School Priority

Jorge’s Principal, Katyna Martin, has been a cornerstone in bringing financial literacy to her students. “I knew nothing about money in middle school!” she said. “In our community, particularly in the Hispanic culture, we don’t always learn that as youngsters.”

Offering financial education in Spanish means that students are able to relate to it, and can take the knowledge home and speak to their parents about savings and the importance of credit in our country.

Katyna will be implementing financial education as a requirement in the seventh grade curriculum through the end of the year. “By the time they get to high school it’s way too late,” she said. “This is the time and this is critically important for all our students, especially in middle school.”

During Financial Literacy Month, as we celebrate our one million student milestone, I’m still struck by the individual stories of impact that have come out of our initiative. It’s not only the data that shows the true value of financial education. It’s the experiences of students like Araya and Jorge. It’s the creativity of teachers like Elliott Powell and the dedication of administrators like Katyna Martin. We know how crucial financial capability is to our citizens and our communities. Both MassMutual Foundation and our partners at EVERFI are committed to improving the financial capability of every student—regardless of zip code—in every corner of America.

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