An Evidence-Based Approach Strengthened by Industry Experience
The majority of youth in the United States consistently receive failing scores on financial literacy tests, even those who have taken courses on personal finance (11). Although financial literacy education is being incorporated into existing curriculum at middle schools, high schools and colleges nationwide, research shows that students who have received financial literacy education do not perform better than peers who have not received such education (11).
As of 2020, seventeen states require students to take a course on personal finance before they graduate from high school (9), but classroom-based financial literacy courses are not always effective in creating positive outcomes for students (9). Many of the programs implemented in schools operate under the assumption that increases in information and knowledge will lead to beneficial changes in financial management practices and behaviors (6) but unfortunately, that is not always the case.
A defining mark of successful financial literacy education is the degree to which it changes the financial behavior of participants, and research has found that knowledge alone is important but not sufficient in creating positive change. A meta-analysis conducted by researchers in 2014 found that financial interventions explained only about 0.1% of the variance in positive financial behaviors (2). However, research has identified several key elements of successful financial literacy educational programs for youth. Based on this research and insight from years of experience working in the financial industry, our approach to financial education employs six critical components:
The most direct way to increase financial literacy in youth is to incorporate financial education into the primary, secondary and postsecondary school system (7), but it is very difficult to introduce financial education programs as core content within an already loaded school curriculum (1). In programs that are imbedded within the K-12 curriculum, there are concerns about instructors’ confidence in teaching financial topics and the lack of time to stay current with the field and ongoing changes in personal finance (11).
The US Department of the Treasury has identified the need to offer financial literacy training to youth through a local distribution channel that makes effective use of community resources, and researchers have also highlighted the need for collaboration with local financial experts in a 21st century model of collaborative learning (11).
At GROW Academy, we understand these concerns and we know that passionate, knowledgeable experts from the local financial industry are well-equipped to help youth in their communities learn the essential components of financial literacy. We partner with volunteers who are both experts in the financial field and expert facilitators. These professionals bring their own unique approach to teaching financial literacy to youth at various developmental stages, guided by our evidence-based core curriculum.
The most effective financial education is targeted in approach to specific financial behaviors (7). According to research, key topics which should be included in all basic financial literacy education include budgeting, credit management, and saving and investing (11). Although financial learning continues across the entire lifespan, these subjects cultivate the essential financial capability needed to navigate an increasingly complicated financial environment.
The GROW Academy core curriculum equips youth with a firm foundation in financial literacy through three simple, successive steps. These modules are formatted as 90-minute workshops that build upon each other, and are delivered in the following order:
Saving & Investing
Through this systematic approach, students first learn to create the conditions for growth by managing their financial life, then cultivate financial strength by wisely managing debt and lastly, grow their financial future by saving and investing.
Financial wellness must address the unique aspects of each person’s life, including awareness of their financial situation, goal setting to maintain or improve their financial situation as desired, and the capability to put their own, self-directed goals into action (8). Action oriented financial education programs provide students with the knowledge and skills needed to improve well-being (4) and they can powerfully effect future behavior.
At GROW Academy, we understand that the ability to obtain critical knowledge combined with the ability to cultivate positive behavior is the heart of successful financial literacy education. We employ S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, assignable, realistic, time-related) goals in our curriculum, which studies have shown to be achievable across many settings (5). We believe that self-directed goals are tremendously important, both in the pursuit of financial well-being and in the pursuit of a fulfilling life.
Successful financial literacy training should be structured to support students’ progress toward well-defined savings and asset goals, and it should be designed to meet students where they are when they start training and then build upon what they know in an affirming and cooperative way (12). Research has found that there must also be some immediate opportunity for students to enact financial knowledge, or it will decay over time (2). Strong financial capability comes from this opportunity to translate key financial knowledge into experiential learning through hands-on practice (3).
In each GROW Academy workshop, we convey critical knowledge and provide students with supportive guidance on how they can implement specific actions to pursue their self-directed financial goals. After each workshop, students are empowered to take manageable and immediate steps toward financial wellness. This experiential learning solidifies their understanding of new knowledge and prepares them for the next step in their learning journey.
Social learning has been identified as a key component in successful financial literacy education and research has shown that children learn financial behaviors from their parents and peers (6). Students can relate more easily to peers than teachers and they may learn positive financial behaviors best from those to whom they can relate (10). In addition, peer-led financial education programs, such as the Take Charge Cats program at the University of Arizona, have been shown to be very effective methods of cultivating financial literacy in young adults (11).
At GROW Academy, we understand the importance of peer support in creating openess in the learning process and developing positive financial behaviors. Our workshops are delivered to students within their own peer groups as a way to foster social learning, a sense of community and motivation. Whenever possible, we also utilize peer mentors and peer-to-peer instruction in our workshops.
For optimal success, it is critical to provide financial literacy education across the entire lifespan (6), including primary, secondary and postsecondary education. Financial literacy training often competes with social learning and personal experience throughout early childhood, so it is important to reach younger students before poor habits take root (6) and inaccurate information is internalized (11). Research has found that the earlier children begin receiving financial literacy training, the better, and education in the early grades can promote life-long positive habits in children.
For these reasons, GROW Academy provides financial literacy training to children, teens and young adults. We understand that financial learning begins very early in life, and developmentally appropriate workshops cultivate the seeds of financial well-being at the even the youngest age. Financial literacy is a lifelong endeavor, but early and consistent education can change the lives of our youth and the lives of generations to come.
(1) Bongini, Paola, and Bilal Zia. “Introduction: The Financial Literacy Collective.” Economic Notes, vol. 47, no. 2/3, July 2018, pp. 235–244. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1111/ecno.12123.
(2) Fernandes, Daniel, et al. “Financial Literacy, Financial Education, and Downstream Financial Behaviors.” Management Science, vol. 60, no. 8, Aug. 2014, pp. 1861–1883., doi:10.1287/mnsc.2013.1849.
(3) Friedline, Terri, and Stacia West. “Financial Education Is Not Enough: Millennials May Need Financial Capability to Demonstrate Healthier Financial Behaviors.” Journal of Family & Economic Issues, vol. 37, no. 4, Dec. 2016, pp. 649–671. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1007/s10834-015-9475-y.
(4) Gil, Esther L. “Leading the Way for Financial Literacy Education: A Case Study on Collaboration.” Journal of Business & Finance Librarianship, vol. 20, no. 1/2, Jan. 2015, pp. 27–53. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/08963568.2015.978710.
(5) Graves, Erin, and Sarah Savage. “Financial Pasts, Presents, and Futures of Community College Students of a Personal Finance Course.” Journal of Business & Finance Librarianship, vol. 20, no. 1/2, Jan. 2015, pp. 116–132. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/08963568.2015.977132.
(6) Gutter, Dr. M. “Financial Management Practices of College Students from States with Varying Financial Education Mandates.” National Endowment for Financial Education, 01 Feb. 2010.
(7) Kim, Kyoung Tae, et al. “Financial Knowledge and Short-Term and Long-Term Financial Behaviors of Millennials in the United States.” Journal of Family & Economic Issues, vol. 40, no. 2, June 2019, pp. 194–208. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1007/s10834-018-9595-2.
(8) Montalto, Catherine P., et al. “College Student Financial Wellness: Student Loans and Beyond.” Journal of Family & Economic Issues, vol. 40, no. 1, Mar. 2019, pp. 3–21. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1007/s10834-018-9593-4.
(9) Morrison, Nan J., and Timothy Ogden. “Should Financial Literacy Be Required?” New York Times Upfront, no. 10, 2020, p. 22.
(10) Reiter, Lauren. “Financial Literacy and the Academic Library: Exploring the Peer-to-Peer Approach.” Journal of Business & Finance Librarianship, vol. 20, no. 1/2, Jan. 2015, pp. 54–65. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/08963568.2015.977732.
(11) Totenhagen, Casey, et al. “Youth Financial Literacy: A Review of Key Considerations and Promising Delivery Methods.” Journal of Family & Economic Issues, vol. 36, no. 2, June 2015, pp. 167–191. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1007/s10834-014-9397-0.
(12) “Understanding Eight Key Elements of Effective Financial Literacy Training.” Corporation for National and Community Service, www.nationalservice.gov/resources/economic-opportunity/understanding-eight-key-elements-effective-financial-literacy.