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High Schoolers Learn Personal Finance Through On-Campus Banking

Simulated and real-world banking activities can help teens understand personal finance better. 


Banks in public high schools have increased the financial knowledge of the entire school community, one official says.

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Many teens in the U.S. have a basic understanding ​of how to manage money.​ But using real financial products, such as a savings account, could help them understand the complicated topic better. 

Experience using financial products may reinforce students' financial literacy, according to a report published in July ​from the​ Organisation for Economic Cooperation​ and Development​. The report ​from the international organization assessed​ the financial literacy of teenagers from around the globe.

[Find out ways to engage high schoolers in personal finance.]

That’s certainly been the case among students at high schools in California with banks on campus, says Jan Woolsey, managing director of Community Reinvestment Act strategy ​and operations at MUFG Union Bank.

Union Bank has branches at three public high schools in the state.​ They are operated by student bankers who are supervised by a Union Bank employee. The student bankers receive a small stipend and scholarship for their work. Students, parents and faculty at the schools are able to use the banks' services.

The student bankers complete an academic class concurrently with a work-study​ program and gain financial knowledge and business skills, Woolsey ​says. 

"They hold their heads higher," she says. "They’re more polished. They are able to talk about finances with their peers and their parents and have been able to impact those closest to them." 

There are only about a dozen student bankers in each school, Woolsey says, but the program has affected​ the entire community. Student bankers give personal finance education presentations to students in other classes and sometimes to parents at PTA nights.

Students at New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois do not have access to a bank on campus, but business teacher Eric Duffett tries to simulate real life​ as much as possible in his classes.

​"The more I can just have them doing things and trying things and seeing how it works, versus me just telling ​them what would happen, the more they retain," says Duffett, who has a degree in finance and previously worked in commercial real estate.

One of his most popular activities with students is​ playing a game that introduces the concept of investing. The students are asked to list as many types of investments as they are aware of and then the student with the longest list ​receives a portion of the profits of Duffett’s ownership in Nike.

Unbeknownst to the students, Duffett only has a very minor stake in Nike, which his mother purchased for him ​ ​while he was in high school.

"They​ get stars in their eyes and they can’t believe it is real," he says. The winner generally receives less than a dollar, Duffett says, but it has been a successful method for him to assess their background knowledge and get them excited about the topic.

[Test your financial literacy skills with this quiz.]

Ensuring her students understand the long-lasting implications of big financial decisions is of utmost importance to business teacher Maggie Wohltmann at Teaneck High School​ in New Jersey.

Wohltmann often facilitates discussions with her students about student loans​, credit, retirement and other financial topics that her students will encounter later in life.

She also groups her students into mock households and has them manage a family budget as if they were 30 years old with children. 

"It’s not like I just give them a homework assignment and say, 'OK,​ figure this out.' It’s, 'Here is the scenario for this month. You as a household have to make some choices,''' ​she says. "It seems to work pretty well."

She says being frank with her students has the greatest effect. 

"Life decisions don't always wait," she says. 

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