This article is by Meg McMahon, a UW-Madison senior and member of the communications Think Tank Team at the School of Human Ecology. Meg has not taken the Financial Life Skills course, but thinks she should.
A “Real Life” Money Course for All UW Students
What started out as a small pilot course at SoHE in 2014 has turned into one of the most filled and waitlisted courses within the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Consumer Science 111, Consumer Science 321, or more colloquially known, Financial Life Skills, is a course where students confront one of their biggest stressors—money! Though, unlike many other classes that focus on money in an abstract sense (think general econ or finance) this course is about important financial life skills.
Gaining financial skills is crucial to students for students in college. Often this is the first time students are handling money on their own and the topics are something students don’t normally talk about; car loans, mortgages, and how divorce can affect your finances. By discussing these topics and more in class, students are able to gain confidence while making financial decisions.
Two Courses for Two Life Stages
Financial Life Skills is an umbrella term for two classes, one aimed at Freshmen and Sophomores, the second aimed at Juniors and Seniors. Each covers student’s financial needs at these different and crucial points in their lives; starting off on your own in college and entering the “real” world and workforce.
The first, CS111, focuses on the now, including student loans and budgeting. Students use a spending diary for a month to help focus their understand on where their money is going each month. In contrast, CS321 focuses on the future—investments, retirement, marriage, and children.
Each of the Financial Life Skills is a flipped classroom format, which is different from most UW-Madison courses. Instead of a professor lecturing for 50 minutes, students come to class prepped with that weeks reading and video lectures. The lecturer does a quick refresher of the materials and then students work in groups, or pods, on real-life application of that week’s subjects. These range from student loan management to setting up a 401K at their first job.
Students enrolled in the courses are not alone making sense of complex financial documents. Each pod of students works with a peer educator who has at least taken one consumer science course or the financial life skills course. Peer educators are in the classroom to help their peers understand the coursework documents. They answer questions students about the readings and resources. Linda Lepe, the coordinator for the Financial Life Skills classes, says that these peer educators get a lot from the course, too. “Peer educators are able to give back the to very course that helped many of them gain financial confidence, while gaining valuable experience in a leadership role,” says Lepe.
Another unique aspect about this course is the variety of lecturers brought in. Not all are university professors, but more often, community members in the financial sphere. “Students love this part of the class,” reports Lepe.”They like to know that the information comes from an expert in the field who works with basic life financial skills on a daily basis.”
A strength that is seen throughout the course is the connections not only to the community at large, but also the University community. The classroom is often extended out past the confines of the Ingram Hall classroom where students meet once a week. The coordinators of the class are focused on highlighting the University’s resources for financial aid and has connected students directly to the school’s financial aid offices.
Coordinators continue to search for out-of-class connections students can use after semester they take the class. One approach is the resource guide students get to keep. Tailored by section, the guide has links and information on everything students have talked about in class so that the information lives on after the semester and even after graduation.
Peer Educators Wanted
One more thing, as Financial Life Skills coordinators begin to wrap up the year, they are also looking for student educators who have taken at least one finance or consumer science class. If you qualify, email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
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