Financial ed doesn’t work

“Financial literacy” training doesn’t help people make better decisions, reports The Economist.

Suppose you had $100 in a savings account that paid an interest rate of 2% a year. If you leave the money in the account, how much would you have accumulated after five years: more than $102, exactly $102, or less than $102? And would an investor who received 1% interest when inflation was 2% see his spending power rise, fall or stay the same?

Only half of Americans aged over 50 gave the correct answers. In another study, 21 percent of those surveyed said their best retirement strategy was winning the lottery.

Financial education doesn’t help, the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland concludes.  “Unfortunately, we do not find conclusive evidence that, in general, financial education programs do lead to greater financial knowledge and ultimately to better financial behaviour.”

U.S. students who’d taken personal finance or money management courses weren’t more financially savvy than those who hadn’t, according to a study by the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy.

In another study, students “who had not taken a financial course were more likely to pay their credit card in full every month (avoiding fees and charges)” than those who’d studied the subject, reports The Economist.

Cleveland Fed researchers recommended teaching financial literacy to adults trying to buy a house or pay of credit card debts.

But . . . consumer enthusiasm for learning about finance is limited. When a free online financial-literacy course was offered to struggling credit-card borrowers, only 0.4% logged on to the website and just 0.03% completed the course. Those who choose to be educated about finance may be those who are already interested and relatively well-informed about it.

Nearly every proposal for rethinking student aid calls for doing a better job of informing students and parents about what they’re getting into when they take out college loans. But it’s not easy. Is college tuition an investment in productivity? A lifestyle expense? It depends on the student.

CC report: Focus on motivated students

California community colleges offer “open access and limited success,” says a new task force report, which calls for focusing scarce resources on new students and motivated students who choose an academic plan and make progress toward a certificate or degree.  Students who’ve taken lots of classes without completing a credential would go on wait lists and eventually lose fee waivers.

Also on Community College Spotlight:  High schools and colleges are trying to teach “financial literacy” to students before they run up huge debts they’ll struggle to repay.

KIPP on college completion

One third of KIPP’s middle-school graduates go on to complete a bachelor’s degree. That’s a tad higher than the national average and much higher than the average for the low-income black and Hispanic students that KIPP educates. But it’s much lower than KIPP’s goal. KIPP Foundation CEO Richard Barth tells Rick Hess what the 99-school network is doing to meet the college completion challenge.

The number one thing is academic rigor. We’ve committed to going kindergarten through twelfth grade in KIPP schools across the country. The original cohorts that we just [reported upon] only got fifth through eighth grade. So [we're going to] start with our kids earlier and stay with them longer. The second thing is we’ve got to do a much better job of finding the right match when it comes to college. We are sending too many of our kids off to campuses that have low graduation rates. . . . one of the simplest and clearest things we can do is to form partnerships with colleges that are doing a better job of not just taking kids, but seeing that they finish. We also think we can do a better job of making sure our KIPPsters are better aware of the financial costs of college and are preparing for that. It is pretty clear that as the original KIPPsters went off to high school, they weren’t sure what it was going to take from a financial standpoint to get to college. We’re piloting a match savings program, so for every dollar a family commits, they can get a match dollar.

KIPP is partnering with  the University of Chicago on a financial literacy program to help families plan for college costs.

The network also hopes to start 25 pilot programs on college campuses to help first-generation students cope with choosing the right classes, financial aid and other demands. In addition, KIPP will strengthen counseling to encourage more KIPPsters to choose the same colleges, so they can support each other.

KIPP, which started as fifth-to-eighth-grade middle schools, now has 15 high schools and is building more.  “We sent a lot of our kids to high schools that we thought would keep the progress going and they didn’t.”

KIPP is rethinking its academic program, Barth says.

As we’ve gotten into the high school business ourselves, there’s been a really big push on writing, which we think is a proxy for critical thinking skills. And we’re trying to learn how to let go of the supports and scaffolding [so as] to let kids be more responsible for decisions on their own. Our middle schools are highly structured, and as we’ve gotten into high schools, we’ve realized we have to prepare them for a world with far less structure. We’ve got to get better at that.

The difference between “to college” and “through college” is huge, Barth says.

This is a challenge facing all the college-prep charter schools that focus on low-income, minority, first-to-college students. It’s easy to get graduates into college because so many aren’t selective. It’s very hard to get students to a college degree. In addition to strong academic preparation, they good work habits and time management skills, financial literacy and the kind of support that college-educated parents can provide to their kids. The school in my book and other college-prep charters now ask their counselors to work with graduates (usually via e-mail) to help them cope with college challenges.