Three West Michigan organizations are looking to expand youth financial education opportunities as Michigan becomes the 14th state in the U.S. to mandate personal finance at the high school level.

With the mid-June passage of the bipartisan bill HB 5190 — which will add a half-credit personal finance course as a high school graduation requirement, starting with ninth graders in 2024 — organizations like Consumers Credit Union and the nonprofits Young Money Finances and Junior Achievement of the Michigan Great Lakes are expanding their efforts to create financial education opportunities for youth.

Kalamazoo-based Consumers CU, which has locations across West Michigan, and Grand Rapids-based nonprofit Young Money Finances (YMF) recently formed a three-year partnership to support YMF’s existing youth financial education programs and expand Consumers CU’s involvement in supporting financial literacy for children.

YMF teaches real-life money management to kids ages 11-17 across the four pillars of “spend, save, share and invest.”

Dondreá Brown, executive director of YMF, and Scott Dobson, manager of the credit union’s 15-year-old Consumers @Work program that provides financial education and wellness principles to people in the workforce, recently spoke to the Business Journal about their partnership.

“Myself and my team spend all of our time out talking to the workforce, especially young adults that are new to the workforce, and we find the lack of basic understanding of how to manage a paycheck is (present among) about 90% of those young people,” Dobson said. “We think it’s great for our state to start thinking about personal finances much younger, and to get people ready for the workforce and understand how to make their paycheck work for them, and the earlier we can start, the better off we are.”

Brown said Consumers CU is supporting YMF with sponsorship dollars for three years, and the partnership will entail co-branding YMF digital and in-person curriculum resources and materials; bringing YMF students to visit Consumers CU; and Consumers employees helping to co-facilitate presentations on saving, investing and budgeting, “to really help kids understand and know that there’s this synergy between financial institutions (and) community organizations as it pertains to serving our youth (and) families regarding financial education.”

This summer, YMF is running a trio of three-week camps in Grand Rapids priced at $25 per student — Young Money Managers and Young Entrepreneurs ran in the morning and evening four times a week from June 20-July 8, and the Young Money Investors camp will meet four times a week from July 18-Aug. 4.

The materials for the camps were set to be co-branded with Consumers CU as of press time, and Consumers was on tap to host one day during each of the camps. General information about the YMF summer camps is at ymfgr.org/camps.

As part of their partnership, Consumers and YMF said they are planning to offer more opportunities to teach teens about money in the coming months. 

Consumers also said this fall it will share access to a variety of new financial education content, including interactive online courses, presentations, blogs and more on its website.

“Our goal would be able to provide that content to teachers so that they can easily provide it to their students,” Dobson said.

Consumers’ current COO and incoming President and CEO Scott Sylvester said when young people understand the basics of money management, it creates a foundation for future positive financial decision-making.

“We are eager to get these valuable resources in front of our members and communities, because we know that when our youth understand the principles of financial wellness, they are better prepared for a successful future,” Sylvester said.

Brown said he already is in talks with schools and school systems about what financial education YMF can contribute by leveraging its proprietary, culturally responsive financial education curriculum. Up to this point, YMF has partnered with outside organizations to offer after-school programming, and this is the first time it is engaging schools directly.

He said he believes the statewide mandate to teach financial literacy in public schools will enhance the work YMF has been doing for three years.

Dobson said Consumers has on occasion provided schools and teachers with one-off financial literacy content on an asked-for basis, but he believes the partnership with YMF will give the credit union and schools access to a more comprehensive approach.

“We’re excited to be able to take this whole suite of products … to the schools and say, ‘Here, we have great options to make it easy for you to provide really impactful content to your students that they’ll like and, most importantly, will work for them,’” Dobson said. “For us, providing education, we want to do it in a way that works for the students so that they can take it and put it into action in their real lives.”

The new bill Whitmer signed into law on June 16 does not add an additional half-credit requirement, but instead allows students to replace one semester of math, visual arts or foreign language with personal finance.

Brown said he believes teaching personal finance is “similar to teaching a foreign language,” and he believes the younger you start, the easier it is to learn the concepts, which is why YMF offers programming for those as young as age 11.

He said YMF always tries to find ways to eliminate the cost barriers in financial education, and he thinks this bill will help with that by embedding financial literacy within public education.

“I think that this is one of those bills that would help us just reimagine and start to be realistic about the different types of finances and financial education we could present to our community,” he said. “One thing that we recognize in any financial education is there’s not a one-size-fits-all model. I think this allows us to engage in some practices that will allow for conversations about culture, about community (and) about diversity as it pertains to financial education.

“We are just happy to be able to be a part of expanding culturally responsive financial education in our community, but more importantly, with the partnership with Consumers, really being able to leverage our experiences, our resources and our passion to impact our youth and help them become more empowered through financial education.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signing HB 5190, which adds a half-credit personal finance course as a high school graduation requirement starting in 2024.
Courtesy state of Michigan

Junior Achievement of the Michigan Great Lakes (JAMGL) said it was one of many advocates for the bill updating Michigan’s high school curriculum to include financial literacy, and the organization is looking forward to participating in the education process.

“Junior Achievement is excited to partner with area schools to bring its proven financial literacy curriculum to high school classrooms across the region as part of this requirement,” said Bill Coderre, president and CEO. “Sixty percent of students who were raised in lower-income homes but have Junior Achievement programming in school report that they are in middle- to upper-income brackets as adults due to the financial literacy learning they received. We are pleased have the support of our legislators in bringing this type of impactful learning to even more students from across our state.”

One new opportunity JAMGL said it will bring to high school students is the chance to spend the day in its new facility in the Karl and Susan Hascall JA Finance Park.

The finance park teaches financial independence to eighth- to 12th-grade students. Students spend 12 classroom sessions preparing for the experience, and their day at JA Finance Park involves a randomly assigned career and family scenario, where participants will create a monthly budget based on their income and family situation.

The new experience will be made available soon to students and schools from across West Michigan. More information is available at michigangreatlakes.ja.org or by calling (616) 575-9080.