Wisconsin credit unions lead financial education initiative

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:34 pm

The National Institute on Financial and Economic Literacy in Madison will instruct more than 125 high school teachers from Wisconsin and other states this summer on how to better teach economic and financial concepts to their students. The program, sponsored by the Wisconsin Credit Union League (WCUL), was formerly known as the Wisconsin Institute of Financial & Economic Education. The name was changed this year because a growing number of teachers from other states wanted to participate.
The institute is important because most young Americans are uninformed about financial matters, according to David Mencl, director of the Office of Financial Literacy for the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions.
"Statistics show that bankruptcy rates are high and that Americans are saving less," Mencl said. "We are also living longer, so that means we need to have more money saved. In recent years, with the introduction of 401(k)s and IRAs, the responsibility of saving money for retirement has shifted from the employer to the employee. However, there has been little education to augment this change."
Young people today have more access to credit than ever before, so they need to know how to manage it, Mencl said.
"One-third of high school seniors have a credit card," Mencl said. "Ten years ago, that wasn’t the case. It’s too late to find out you have bad credit when you try to buy that first house."
The institute, in its fifth year of operation, is organized by the Wisconsin Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy, which is comprised of public and private organizations working to improve the state’s financial literacy.
"We’re on the cutting edge at a national level," said Mencl, who is also the chairman of the Wisconsin Jump$tart Coalition. "No other state has this level of training."
The program is receiving national attention. The Wisconsin Jump$tart Coalition was named the first ever State Coalition of the Year for 2005 by the National Jump$tart Coalition for its efforts. The institute’s program was recognized in the recent National Financial Literacy and Education Commission report, effectively making it the model for the rest of the nation.
The WCUL, the Pewaukee-based trade association that sponsors the institute, represents more than 280 nonprofit, member-owned credit unions.
"We sponsor (it) because teachers are well-positioned to reach young people inexpensively and effectively," said Chris Olson, director of communications for the WCUL. "As little as 10 hours of formal instruction in this area affects behavior, helping students avoid life-altering mistakes with money."
Member credit unions in the WCUL can choose to sponsor one or more local teachers to attend the institute.
"There are no regulations for this material to be taught in this state, and studies show that it isn’t being taught in the home," said Olson. "What you see here is people deciding that this topic is too important to ignore, and taking action. This has got to be a priority for our economy."

July 8, 2005, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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