DOLLARS AND SENSE: FINANCIAL PLANNERS TEACH COLLEGE STUDENTS

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1 DOLLARS AND SENSE: FINANCIAL PLANNERS TEACH COLLEGE STUDENTS TO LEARN AND SHARE HOW MONEY WORKS Erwin J. Wong, Marva M. Craig, and Linda Roma, Borough of Manhattan Community College Clare Stenstrom, Financial Planning Association of New York INTRODUCTION We currently face an economic crisis of historic proportions. Corporate giants such as Chrysler and General Motors had discussions about preparing plans for bankruptcy. Countless homes are undergoing foreclosure, and millions of workers are either losing their jobs or are being forced to work fewer hours for less pay. In such times, financial literacy is not only important but also necessary for our youth. Yet for them, there is a paucity of knowledge concerning finances. By the time college students enter their senior year, nearly 56% of them carry four or more credit cards with balances averaging close to $3,000. However, according to the National Council on Economic Education (NCEE), an organization dedicated to promoting economic and financial literacy, only 40 states have personal finance standards or guidelines, only nine states require student testing on personal finance, and only seven states require personal finance courses to graduate. The research continues to show that people of all ages, incomes, and education do not have sufficient financial intelligence to sustain a healthy relationship with financial resources and institutions. The research continues to show that people of all ages, incomes, and education do not have sufficient financial intelligence to sustain a healthy relationship with financial resources and institutions. The NCEE undertook a study to identify what young people in high school were being taught, and what young people in general knew about economics and basic finances. The major findings of this study showed that only 50% of high school students say they have ever been taught economics. From the results of a 24 question quiz on basic knowledge of economics and personal finance, the students average score was 53; adults averaged a score of 70. In addition, credit card debt and student loans for youth and recent graduates are at the highest they have been in U.S. history. Excessive financial pressures are placed upon young people, especially at a time when their financial resources are most limited. Many in this group are at great risk to make financial decisions that are not beneficial to them or their families because they lack a foundation of knowledge in financial matters. Very few high schools or colleges provide training in this area. To address this disconcerting challenge, Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) under the aegis of the Offices of Academic Affairs, Student Affairs, and the Center for Adult and Continuing Education and Workforce Development partnered with the Financial Planning Association of New York (FPANY) to create a financial literacy service learning program through 113

2 Accent on Student Success: Engaged Together in Service (ASSETS), which is funded by the Community College National Center for Community Engagement through a Learn & Serve grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service. BACKGROUND BMCC is one of twenty units comprising the City University of New York (CUNY). Currently serving more than 25,000 students in its credit (21,858) and non credit (4,000) programs, BMCC has the highest enrollment among CUNY s six community colleges and is the only one located in Manhattan. Founded in 1963, BMCC opened in 1964 as a small, primarily business orientated community college offering programs aimed at the mid town business community. During the next two decades, the mission of the college changed in response to the advent of the City University s open admissions policy in 1970 and in response to an emergence of new technologies and changes in business and industry. Open admissions significantly extended higher education opportunity to thousands of students, many of them nontraditional. After BMCC relocated from midtown Manhattan in 1983 to its new building in downtown Manhattan, the programs of the college became more diversified and reflected many of the emerging new technologies. BMCC now offers a wide variety of degree programs (Associate in Applied Sciences, Associate in Arts Degree, and an Associate in Science Degree) as well as many non degree programs in the Center for Adult and Continuing Education and Workforce Development. BMCC is also distinctive for the remarkable cultural diversity of its student body and its commitment to academic excellence. BMCC ranks second in the nation in awarding associate degrees to minority students and 15th in awarding associate degrees to Hispanics. In 1983, BMCC was designated as a Historically Black College and has been recognized by the Department of Education as a Hispanic Serving Institution. Nearly 90% of BMCC s student population is comprised of minorities and groups historically underrepresented in collegiate programs, and more than two thirds of our students are women. BMCC has the largest financial aid program in CUNY with nearly 92% of eligible students receiving financial assistance. Many BMCC students come to the college without a strong academic background. Eighteen percent of entering freshmen hold a GED rather than a high school diploma, and only 37% of entering freshmen have achieved a high school average of 75 or better. For many, English is not their first language. Almost 40% of our students come from homes where one or both parents never completed high school. The college is committed to offering quality education in a pluralistic urban environment and fostering it for those who seek fulfillment of personal, career, or socioeconomic goals. One of BMCC s goals is to provide for all students a general education that nurtures personal development, intellectual curiosity, and critical thinking to enhance informed and effective participation in society. This particular goal is in alignment with what the students experience through service learning. 114

3 The community partner in the ASSETS service learning initiative is the FPANY. According to its website, [its mission] is to foster the highest standards of ethics, knowledge and skills of its members, and to continually enhance the reputation and integrity of the financial planning process and profession with the general public. In addition, The Financial Planning Association of New York serves its members and the public by promulgating the highest standards of professionalism for the financial services industry. FPANY is committed to both member and public education about the financial planning process and an understanding of the benefits of financial planning to the consumer and the practitioner. THE PROGRAM BMCC and the FPANY have developed a service learning financial literacy program through ASSETS. The program has two components. The first is Money Works, a comprehensive 16 module program in financial literacy which is open to all BMCC students. These workshops are scheduled so that the largest number of students can participate. They learn such topics as credit, savings, budgeting, and identity thief. These workshops are conducted by the Financial Planning Association at the main campus. The second component of the program focuses on service learning. Students wishing to become Financial Literacy Ambassadors (FLAs) needed to have a minimum of a 2.8 GPA, completed at least 20 credits and be registered for at least 6 credits. The students who met the requirements were able to apply for the program. Some applicants were recruited through Money Works and were interviewed by the Dean of Student Affairs. A second group of applicants who also participated in the program came from different academic departments, such as the Accounting and Business Management (Finance) Departments. All FLAs made a commitment to participate. Their participation commitment included achieving a level of competencies in financial literacy as well as participation in the service learning component. Through our participation in ASSETS, we implemented a service learning program in financial literacy for our students and community members from the area's local high schools. The service learning component included participation in monthly coursework, contact time with their mentors, and time spent providing service learning to their high school counterparts. Moreover, in this third year of the program, BMCC expanded participation by recruiting faculty from other academic departments, such as the English Department and Speech, Communications, and Theatre Arts Department. Through journalism courses taught by English Department faculty, students were asked to report about the ASSETS financial literacy program. Additionally, students in the college s Video Arts and Technology program housed in the Speech, Communications, and Theatre Arts Department interviewed and videotaped BMCC administrators and faculty about the ASSETS financial literacy service learning program. Furthermore, FLAs were videotaped interacting with the high school students. The videotapes were edited and then televised on the BMCC TV channel. 115 Their participation commitment included achieving a level of competencies in financial literacy as well as participation in the service learning component.

4 COMMUNITY PARTNER The partnership with the FPANY has been nothing short of successful. In an interview conducted in the Spring 2009 semester, Clare Stenstrom, an FPANY financial planner and one of the lead architects in the Money Works program, shared her thoughts on questions posed about being a partner in a service learning project. WHAT ARE THE STRENGTHS OF PARTNERING WITH A COMMUNITY COLLEGE? The Financial Planning Association of New York is committed to providing the general public with access to the means for successful financial planning. This is especially crucial for young adults who are preparing to enter the workforce and need to be mindful of how to plan for the future, especially in today s times when the financial market is so volatile. So where is a better place to educate these young adults than in a community college? Where better to raise their awareness of financial literacy than at Borough of Manhattan Community College, which attracts students from all of the boroughs of New York City and beyond, from high school and from the world of work? BMCC is the ideal place to engage students in thinking seriously about financial literacy because it is in the heart of the financial district. When BMCC approached us about creating a financial literacy program in which their students would become Financial Literacy Ambassadors and help educate high school students about financial literacy, we jumped at the opportunity to participate. We knew about BMCC s reputation as a premier urban community college. Their staff is organized, resourceful, professional and ethical. They are excellent at coordinating the various BMCC is the ideal place to engage students in thinking seriously about financial literacy because it is in the heart of the financial district. meetings and workshops. They track the program from start to finish and set up steps to go through the program so that nothing is missed. Since they are used to the challenges the students face, they are flexible about time and commitment, which adds to the success of the project. The college is also generous about finding ways to provide us with access to space and facilities. The deans and vice president are always innovative, involved, and passionate about the process and the outcome. Community colleges seem to have a reputation for being innovative in terms of creating programs both inside and outside of the classroom to help students succeed in school and in life. The ASSETS financial literacy program is no exception. We have created what I think is a successful program that functions both inside and outside of the classroom. BMCC students learn through Money Works how to save and be successful about finances. Those goals are reinforced through the specific modules developed by the faculty and through the exchanges that the ambassadors have with the high school students. It is truly a community effort in which we are serving the community and giving back to it. 116

5 WHAT ARE THE WEAKNESSES OF PARTNERING WITH A COMMUNITY COLLEGE? From a practical point of view, there is a weakness in terms of access; there are limitations to the students availability to participate in the service learning project. As we have learned, for many of the students at BMCC, and I gather this is true for many community college students, their time outside of the classroom is very limited. Many of the students work full time and attend class full time, so the time they can put into a service learning project, whether it is part of a course or an extracurricular activity, is extremely difficult to find. Also, because BMCC is a commuter college, the time that the students spend on the campus is definitely limited. This problem is compounded when the college has established free time for the students to meet (club hours). It is in the middle of the day on Wednesdays, which virtually excludes all working students. Overall, time is the greatest challenge for the service learning project at BMCC. Because of the great demands on the students time, it is challenging to set up dates and times that are convenient for everyone to meet. WHAT OPPORTUNITIES ARE DERIVED FROM PARTNERING WITH A COMMUNITY COLLEGE? I understand that one of the hallmarks of service learning is reflection, and certainly that has occurred not only with the students, but with our own financial planners. You could say that the opportunity of working with BMCC has allowed service learning to permeate outwards in all directions not just to the students but also to the community partner. We have been able to involve a broad range of our members of the Financial Planning Association of New York in the program, providing a learning experience for our new planners, the opportunity to serve for our experienced planners and a level of networking that is deeper than in social gatherings. Planners learned to work with a variety of students of different ages, educational levels and backgrounds. Everyone involved with BMCC has expressed a feeling of satisfaction and enrichment from the ability to teach, guide and learn from the students. It has given us the opportunity to better communicate what financial planning is and who financial planners are and attract some of the students to our profession. WHAT ARE THE THREATS INVOLVED IN PARTNERING WITH A COMMUNITY COLLEGE? Again, limitations come to mind. If you only partner with a community college, that means that there are potential partners being neglected, such as senior colleges. You are limiting access. Concurrently, limited access may also mean limited funding, and as a consequence, there is the possibility of not continuing a partnership due to lack of funds for the program. We would be very sad to see the program end. ABOUT THE AUTHORS: You could say that the opportunity of working with BMCC has allowed service learning to permeate outwards in all directions not just to the students but also to the community partner. Dr. Erwin J. Wong, Dean for Academic Programs and Instruction, began his career at Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) in 1984 as a member of the English Department. 117

6 Since then, he has served in a variety of administrative roles, such as Deputy Chair of the English Department, Chair of the Liberal Arts program, Associate Dean of Instruction and Curriculum, and now Dean of Academic Programs and Instruction. He is highly regarded as a leader not only at the college, but also throughout the university, especially in the areas of placement, advisement, transfer, articulation and assessment. He has presented nationally on academic advisement, mentoring, leadership and disaster recovery, and he has published articles on pedagogy and on popular culture. Dr. Marva Craig is the Vice President for Student Affairs at Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC). For over 20 years, she has been involved in Higher Education. She was the Dean of Student Affairs, the Associate Dean of Student Affairs, and the Registrar at BMCC. She has taught Speech Communication in CUNY and other institutions. In addition, she has presented papers at many higher education national conventions. She is the recipient of the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development (NISOD) Excellence Award and the Professional Staff Congress/City University of New York Performance Excellence Award. Linda Roma is the Director of Grants and Contracts, for The Center for Continuing Education and Workforce Development at Borough of Manhattan Community College. Her professional experiences have spanned over 30 years, with her involvement in workforce development and literacy initiatives, at both the city and state levels. As an energetic and effective leader, she is committed to achieving high levels of excellence. She has a Masters of Public Administration and is a Certified Life Coach. She currently serves on the Legislative Committee of the New York City Employment and Training Coalition. Clare Stenstrom is a Certified Financial Planner and a principal with Bourne Stenstrom Lent Asset Management, Inc., a registered investment advisory firm, which has offices in New York City, Pawling, NY, Montclair & Ridgewood, NJ and Yarmouth, ME. Her practice consists of comprehensive, holistic financial planning and investment advisory services. She is also a Sudden Money Institute advanced advisor, helping people to successfully conquer life s financial transitions. She has been honored with the Heart of Financial Planning Award for 2009 by both the Financial Planning Association s national organization and the local New York chapter. This award recognizes her leadership, commitment to the highest standards of professional competence, integrity, relationships and stewardship; and extraordinary contributions to advance the financial planning profession and promote financial literacy. As a past President of the FPA New York Chapter, she formed the 9 11 Pro Bono effort for the Financial Planning Association that became the national Pro Bono outreach for the association that exists to this day. She also works with youths at risk in secondary schools and detention centers, helping them put together a financial plan that will allow them to succeed in life. 118

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