Financial literacy ed initiative helping students take control

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While many teenagers may find it hard to imagine retirement, Fox Chapel High School senior Pat Denny took a close look at the math and decided to open a Roth IRA after reading “The Missing Semester,” a book for young adults who did not receive financial literacy education in school.

“It sparked an interest in my own finances and a discussion with my parents about how I could be more financially responsible,” said the 18-year-old. “It resulted in me opening a Roth IRA when I realized the difference in what I could earn beginning at age 18 instead of 25.”

He opened the account with $1,000 saved from coaching youth basketball and doing a work-study program at his high school.

Pat was among dozens of college and high school students who attended a panel discussion Friday at the University of Pittsburgh on how their eyes were opened to the dangers of credit card debt, the power of compound interest, and the rewards of delayed gratification thanks to the financial literacy initiative started by Pitt business professor Jay Sukits and Gene Natali Jr., author of “The Missing Semester.”

“Today we are trying to use peer-to-peer influence in a positive way,” Mr. Natali said. “If the students on this panel can take control of their financial lives, so can students across the country.”

The initiative has played a role in improving the landscape for financial literacy education throughout Allegheny County.

Riverview High School, for instance, has made its one-year personal finance course a graduation requirement. Also, a personal finance course started at Allegheny College as a result of the initiative has grown into the most demanded course on campus, and is now made available to all students versus just business majors.

The Vanguard Group, based in Wayne, Delaware County, has partnered with the financial literacy initiative by providing a free program that guides teachers in instructing their students on financial responsibility. It is offered in close to 2,000 schools across the country.

“What we love about our program is that teachers who are insecure about teaching financial literacy find our course to be user-friendly and easy to implement,” said Nate Prosser, a Vanguard representative who manages that program and co-moderated Friday’s event at Pitt.

Melissa Philson, a psychology instructor at Butler County Community College, said she began offering financial literacy education to students in her honors section after Mr. Natali spoke to her class two years ago.

“It’s a personal thing I also noticed I was missing from my college experience,” she said. “I feel every student can use it.”

Tim Grant: or 412-263-1591.

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