-By Gary Frank-
Financial literacy is one of the keys to students’ success, says Bianca Osma, Vice President of Fellowship. In order to help Passaic County Community College students better understand finances – from credit and debit cards to investing and how to create a financially secure future – Phi Theta Kappa created the Financial Literacy program. This would give students the tools they need to make smarter financial decisions. The program launched February 2021 and ran through to spring break at the end of March, with all sessions conducted online via Zoom.
“It’s hard as a student who lives in an environment where poverty is riddled to think about financial literacy,” Assistant Professor of Human Services, Jennifer Gasparino – who also serves as PTK Advisor – said. “We really wanted to tailor it to our students so they can understand – it’s hard to understand some of these concepts, and how do they stretch their money and how do they start to think how their education impacts their financial future.”
At the beginning of the 2020 fall semester, through the Title V Teacher Excellence Grant, Associate Dean for Learning Resources, Gregory Fallon, reached out to the PTK team to lead a peer-to-peer session about financial literacy. In order to do this, they put a focus group together and reached out to Dr. Barbara O’Neill, owner and CEO of Money Talk, to discuss issues relevant to the PCCC student population. What were the most important financial issues facing today’s college student? They came up with a number of topics, including personal budgeting, how to build credit, investing, and how to make the dollar stretch as far as possible.
From that discussion, a course was created specifically for PCCC students, taking the most important topics and breaking them into six sessions. These six sessions covered a wide range of financial concerns and helped students learn all aspects of financial responsibility and well being.
The first session, “How Does Your Cash Flow?”, dealt with understanding a student’s relationship with money and money goals. Budgeting was also discussed, as well as the difference between needs and wants. Students learned how to keep track of expenses and how to create personal and family budgets.
Next, students learned ways to manage money in a session called “Financial Fundamentals”. They discussed checks, debit cards, and other money issues such as reconciliations, compound interest and taxes.
“Give Yourself Credit” was the third session. Here students gained an understanding of the responsibility that comes with credit cards, the value of credit scores, financial aid for college and the different student loans available to them.
Following that discussion, the topic of “’Big Ticket’ Purchases and Insurance” offered an overview of diligent planning for big purchases like a car or a house. They also discussed shopping for the best type of insurance, interest rates, and the impact of credit scores on one’s ability to purchase those big ticket items.
The fifth session, “Investing For Your Future”, helped students learn about the ins and outs of investing as a strategy for growing one’s wealth. Also discussed were risk tolerance and what types of investing are available. All this added up to a powerful tool to prepare students for their future, including retirement and those larger purchases everyone faces in their lives.
Finally, “Twenty Steps to Seven Figures” covered the steps to building financial wealth, including strategies to increase capital, when to buy and sell stocks, and the idea to start saving as early as possible.
During the sessions, students had opportunities to engage in a variety of activities, such as Jersey Diner Menus, that allowed students to pick and choose what activity they wished to work on. They had choices such as comparing costs and benefits of 3 big-ticket items, reviewing auto or renters insurance, playing a financial game, Bummer, or finishing their “From Their Memory” worksheet. Each session started with a period of reflection on how best to spend / save money.
Over the course of the six sessions reports were provided to update the Title V Advisory Council on how the program was going.
Coming out of the workshop, a number of Alpha Eta Chi officers discussed their feelings and what they learned.
Membership Coordinator, Ashely Diaz said, “The financial literacy course was a life changing experience, and inspired me to make choices for my financial future.”
Edwin Lotero, Secretary, expressed his thoughts, “I learned it’s not too late for me to start making smarter financial decisions so I can have enough money for my life’s goals.”
President Ravyn John said, “The financial literacy course has taught me the significance of money management. Because of the financial literacy course I will be able to make informed decisions that will benefit me financially.”
Isaac Belgrave, the Vice President of Scholarship, stated, “The financial literacy course taught me about debit cards and credit cards as well as the advantages / disadvantages of each.”
Jenny Garcia, Provisional Membership Coordinator, explained, “The financial literacy workshop has helped me to clearly understand the benefits of saving and investing for a greater future.”
The PTK Executive Board will take their training forward to the 2021-2022 incoming Executive Board, who will present the six-session workshop again. The plan is to get all students involved in the workshop so that everyone graduating from PCCC has an understanding of finances, and they’ll be able to build wealth and be financially secure in their future.