A call for a course on Financial Literacy at Washington & Jefferson College
As I reflect on turning twenty-six five days ago, I also realize that I am approaching four years since I graduated from Washington & Jefferson College in May 2015. I am merely reflecting and really thinking of ways in which W&J can collaborate with me, grow with my peers and help the Presidents of the future. The fact that April recognizes National Financial Literacy Month in the United States only accelerates this burning desire within me.
Growing up in Carlisle, Pennsylvania (a naturally rural area), I was always fascinated and curious every time I visited a large city and urban area about what the heck was going on in all of those tall buildings that were taking up all of the commercial real estate space. What did they know that I didn’t?
As an Economics major and a Business Administration minor, I learned about financial institutions and their operations answering a lot of the questions I had about New York City, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington D.C., Baltimore, and many other cities around America as a child. More importantly, I’ve learned a substantial amount of information from my self-education as well, not to downplay the great and formal-education I received at W&J.
During the past 4 years, I have worked within many financial services companies, operated my own internet marketing and consulting business, attended leadership training's all over the U.S., read over 100 books on my own time on topics as wide as personal finance, marketing, sales, communication, leadership, emotional intelligence, etc. and watched countless YouTube videos. All of this was intentional with the goal in mind to learn about finances, investing strategies and how to achieve financial literacy (a topic I researched with my Magellan Project while interning during the summer of 2014).
However, only within the past few years have I wondered why such a great (and costly) institution like W&J does not offer a class (or classes) on financial literacy. Now, financial education is left out in the vast majority of high schools and colleges across the nation so it is not like W&J is the only college but we have the opportunity to initiate a growing trend, which is quite frankly long overdue in this country.
As a liberal arts institution, I think it is our duty, service, and responsibility to teach our current students, incoming students in 2019–2020 and future students how to best leverage what we learn here and reap the benefits financially. $1.5 trillion and climbing of student loan debt is more than enough of a reason to act before that bubble bursts.
While these are very valuable courses here, I am not referring to an investment 101 course or simply “Finance”. To be financially literate means knowing the set of rules, principles, and skills when it comes to making and spending money. It’s never about how much money you make but how much of that you keep for yourself, your family and your future family’s legacy.
This course should teach students things like how to use/manage a credit card, saving strategies, tax law, how to file your taxes every year, bank loans, how to purchase a home, how to read business plans/documents, making a financial plan for your personalized goals, how and why to have multiple streams of income, how to earn passive/residual income and what investment vehicles to use in terms of retirement (these last two are incredibly important for achieving great wealth and financial freedom).
I would love W&J to make this topic a course that any student can enroll in. I believe this should be an actual credit-bearing and mandatory course. There’s absolutely no reason why colleges — even high schools — don’t require this. We pay so much money for each credit we take, why not use that money to become financially literate? Learning these hard/soft skills can literally multiply our earning potential and increase our purchasing power once we graduate (talk about return on investment). Learning how to master these concepts and act on these principles/lessons can make financial freedom an actual goal, and reality, for many folks.
An example of how a course like this can be useful is personal/private loans. Now, I understand that not everyone that goes to school here pays the tuition, but the cost of attending W&J for four years is roughly $244,000 (on average direct costs for the 2018–2019 academic year were $60,640). This number will reach $250,000 to $280,000 very soon and so we need to be financially literate in order to pay back any loans that we have been taking out or maybe to pay back our parents. We cannot be encouraging any student to graduate with a mortgage to his/her name post-graduation.
Nonetheless, many students will graduate and receive job offers (maybe not immediately but eventually) with salaries ranging between $30,000 and $100,000. While these may seem like very large sums of money, when you consider living costs across all major U.S. cities, loan payments ranging between $300–$1500 per month, and taxes withheld from weekly, biweekly or monthly pay, there is not that much discretionary income left over to personally enjoy or save/invest. This course can teach us ways to create passive/residual income so that we do not have to depend solely on a day job. I really hope W&J can spearhead this movement of providing financial education to the next generation of students and future professionals.
I’d recommend communicating this message to the appropriate parties within W&J College. I’m confident there are committees that review curriculum, approve new courses/programs, and recommend changes. Lastly, I’d advise meeting with the Econ and Business department heads and major committees in order to shop and pitch the idea. In many cases, change happens from within. A mentor of mine once said, “Find a way to serve the many, for service to many leads to greatness.” This will, without a doubt in my mind, serve hundreds if not thousands of people.
My Very Best,
Washington & Jefferson College ‘15