All seniors at CCA are required to take a personal finance course before they graduate.
Financial literacy, as former President Bill Clinton once said, is “a very fancy term for saying spend it smart, don’t blow what you can and know how the economy works.”
The former president’s words essentially boil down the point Lisa Malsberger, a personal finance teacher at Commonwealth Charter Academy, tries to get across to the more than 750 seniors taking the school’s personal finance course.
“Personal finance is used every day in the real world,” said Lisa, one of CCA’s three personal finance teachers. The 2017-18 school year marks her second teaching the course at CCA.
Even though students, parents and other working adults use personal finance skills daily, teaching financial literacy is not a requirement in Pennsylvania. A 2016 Pennsylvania Department of Education report found that only 15 percent of the state’s school districts require a personal finance course for graduation.
The low percentage is especially shocking considering an April 2017 study by Mintel, a global market research provider, found that only 19 percent of respondents would give themselves an A on financial knowledge.
To do its part in curbing this trend, CCA now requires students to take a personal finance course before they can graduate. It’s something Lisa wishes all schools — including her high school — offered.
“I just applied for student loans. I thought it was free money,” said Lisa, who teaches in the Scranton region.
If there is an upside to Lisa having student loans that cost, as she characterizes, more than her mortgage, it’s that she can use these experiences to educate students.
“I’m totally honest with them,” she said. “That way, I know they’re going to listen to me.”
The course is broken up into eight lessons :
• Introduction to personal finance. When the course begins, Lisa asks the students about the skills they might already possess to get “their brains going,” she said. “The class is called personal finance. It’s about making it personal to you. We’re giving them the information. … They need to take it and learn from it.”
• Saving. The class goes over the power of compound interest and paying yourself first, which means saving leftover money after paying bills versus spending it.
• Budgeting. Unlike personal finance courses offered at other schools, Lisa has her students budget based on their real-life scenarios. “Most have jobs and bills, so it’s not a theory-based project,” Lisa said. “They are actually creating their own budgets.”
• Debt. This encompasses student loans, myths with credit and other types of debt.
• Life after high school. Renting versus owning a home and other decisions students will have to make after graduation are discussed. The basic message Lisa tries to instill in students is “to make good decisions.”
• Consumer awareness. Impulse purchases are reviewed during this lesson, and Lisa uses pictures and videos she has taken to ask students whether they feel the items shown are impulse purchases.
• Investment and retirement. The class reviews investment basics, including stocks and mutual funds.
• Insurance. Health, life and other types of insurance coverage.
Lisa said the goal is to expand the program over the next few years to include juniors and eventually offer it to all students in grades 9-12.
For now, though, the three personal finance teachers will focus on educating seniors, who will soon be leaving for college and the real world. This isn’t something Lisa and the others take lightly, as a CareerBuilder report recently found that 78 percent of full-time U.S. workers live paycheck to paycheck.
“We are giving them the opportunity so that when they enter adulthood, they know how money works,” Lisa said.