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Collaboration enables financial education providers to reach more people and use limited resources effectively, says Hilary L. Hunt, director of Pennsylvania’s Office of Financial Education (OFE).
“Some of the most exciting financial education work in Pennsylvania involves new collaboration, rather than new programs,” Hunt explained. “The people doing this work in nonprofits, businesses, and government agencies should increase their collaboration within their sector and across sectoral lines. We need to capitalize on our strengths and, working together, we can reach more people.”
Hunt cited as an example a collaboration between the Greater Philadelphia Urban Affairs Coalition and the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Delaware Valley in which people learned about credit reports and credit counseling while waiting to have their tax returns prepared at volunteer income tax assistance sites. “It’s easier to reach individuals where they are, instead of trying to get them to attend an event,” Hunt noted.
Another example she cited involves credit unions establishing branches in Pennsylvania high schools. There are currently 10 such branches in Pennsylvania in which credit union staff members serve as resources for teachers and guest speakers in classrooms while students serve as tellers for their classmates and faculty. The Pennsylvania Credit Union Association and its foundation have supported these efforts throughout the state.
In 2004, Hunt, who began her career as a middle-school math teacher, was appointed director of the OFE, which is part of the Pennsylvania Department of Banking. She said that the OFE is to her knowledge the only bureau in the nation established through a governor’s order to coordinate and work with all of a state’s agencies on financial education.
The OFE recently completed a pilot program with Pennsylvania’s departments of Banking, Environmental Protection, Treasury, and the Board of Probation and Parole. The top official of each entity invited employees to attend financial-education events and asked them to complete a survey about subjects of interest, which generated a 63 percent response rate. Employees’ spouses, friends, and adult children were also invited to attend.
In the fall of 2006, Becky MacDicken, the OFE’s workforce specialist, coordinated 29 lunch ‘n’ learn events attended by nearly 400 employees, many of whom went to more than one session, on budgeting, identity theft, homeownership, retirement, investments, wills, and long-term care. The pilot program is a first step in educating the state’s 80,000 employees on personal finance matters.
Meanwhile, Mary Rosenkrans, the OFE’s school-based financial education specialist, is surveying the state’s 650 high schools to see which ones offer or require personal finance as part of their curricula. The OFE works with about 350 teachers a year; for example, it shows math teachers how they can meet standardized test requirements by incorporating personal finance in their courses.
Similarly, René Bryce-Laporte supports the OFE’s effort to link community-based organizations with financial education programs to expand and enhance their programs. The OFE often serves as a clearinghouse, connecting programs and sharing information about effective practices.
The OFE is also expanding its website (www.moneysbestfriend.com) to include statewide lists of financial-education programs, services, and events and some educational materials in Spanish. According to Hunt, the site has had 100,000 visitors since it was launched in April 2006.
Hunt said that all age groups need financial education that is delivered appropriately, but one of the best approaches is bank and credit union savings programs for young people. “These programs do a fantastic job of establishing patterns and behavior,” she explained. “Most people form their financial habits by the age of 10. In these programs, kids get comfortable going into financial institutions and learn about savings and checking accounts. They establish a good habit that is much harder to instill in any other way.”