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A Financial Literacy Program for Kids, With Corporate Sponsorship

The best place to learn solid financial behavior is at home. Although a kid’s environment at school and among peers is important in his or her development, the biggest influence on a growing child’s set of values is the behavior of the parents. Parents are role models, so in a perfect world, they are best suited to solve young adults’ lack of preparedness for handing the world from a financial perspective.

Parents, on the other hand, are often ill-equipped for this responsibility, so public school teachers are left to pick up the slack for parents who can’t or won’t be the role models necessary. The lessons aren’t difficult, but financial behavior is so embedded in life at home, poor models there can easily undo any lessons taught in a school environment. Although New Jersey updates its public school curriculum standards a few years ago to require 2.5 credits in financial, economic, business, and entrepreneurial literacy, the typical class is not going to be effective for establishing solid financial behavior.

Eighth gradePrograms that teach financial literacy need to get creative. If there’s ever a chance for the banking industry to get involved with its future customers at an early age, this is it. Capital One sees the benefit in teaching young children how to use its products and is sponsoring the “Finance Park” program, coordinated by the non-profit organization Junior Achievement.

Finance Park is a mobile program for middle school students. After a few preparatory lessons in the classroom, the students visit one of these mobile stations and a Capital One bank branch. Students are assigned a family situation (single, married, with or without children, etc.) and a job, and are faced with simulations requiring financial decisions that have consequences. Due to a lack of preparedness in real life, most people learn how to manage their money “on the job.” But even in real life, the consequences of poor financial decision-making can be somewhat removed from the decisions themselves. The distance between cause (overspending, for example) and effect (not being able to afford a house due to high debt levels, for example) are so separated that learning on the job isn’t always effective as quickly as it would need to be.

Simulations can bring the cause and effect relationship into focus.

Capital One’s presence is significant in this program. The official name of the initiative is the “Capital One Junior Achievement Finance Park” with the necessary trademark symbols. Corporate involvement doesn’t stop with Capital One. There are more co-branded programs which one might expect to see corporations training young consumers to be life-long customers, in New Jersey alone:

Elementary school grades

  • Our Nation® Sponsored by United Technologies
  • JA More than Money™ (After-school Program) Sponsored by HSBC

Middle school grades

  • JA Global Marketplace™ Sponsored by MasterCard Worldwide
  • JA Economics for Success™ Sponsored by the Allstate Foundation
  • JA America Works Sponsored by Pitney Bowes & The Literacy and Education Fund

High school grades

  • JA TITAN (Internet based) Sponsored by Oracle
  • JA Economics™ Sponsored by the MetLife Foundation
  • JA Exploring Economics™ Sponsored by the MetLife Foundation
  • JA Banks in Action™ Sponsored by the Citi Foundation
  • JA Business Ethics™ Sponsored by Deloitte
  • JA Careers with a Purpose™ Sponsored by HCA & John Templeton Foundation

Junior Achievement programs in other states have different partnerships.

Shareholders are often impressed with corporate involvement in positive social initiatives and happy when companies are beneficiaries of tax incentives for charitable spending. I am concerned about the effect of branding in education lessons for eighth-graders. Corporations should not be involved with the education of children, but these corporations have money to devote to programs like Finance Park. If it weren’t for corporate sponsorship, programs like these would likely not exist.

Corporations have been involved with public education since the 1920s, but the trend has increased in recent years. As the United States falls behind other countries in education, citizens look to blame this country’s public school system. We look to corporations that create charter schools as an alternative, with the idea that schools with a better funding source, corporate profits rather than taxpayer money, will help solve the educational crisis. Results show that charter schools have mixed results when compared with public schools.

The lessons in personal finance are important, so it’s a good thing that kids are getting the exposure to real-life simulations. Can it be done without corporate involvement and indelible branding at an impressionable age?

Photo: daveparker
Junior Achievement Finance Park, Stanford CREDO study

Published or updated May 22, 2012.

About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of shizennougyou. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar 1 Anonymous

I agree that teaching personal finance to children is important. In fact, I used to teach it in high school, but it needs to be practiced or you forget what you learned. The ideal is students learn and practice with their parents.

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avatar 2 Luke Landes

You’re right, and what worries me is that society looks at the failures of whatever the target of criticism happens to be and blames the school system. All lessons learned in school are useless when living conditions don’t allow for reinforcement at home.

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avatar 3 Anonymous

YES… absolutely.

Inner city public schools fail because the family structure of most students is failing.

You think a student cares about school when they are taking care of their own families?

Some how most of America and politicians think teachers are to blame. They seem them as overpaid (you get 3 months off) and ineffective. I’d love to hear anyone explain that to me. It’s the most uneducated and poorly thought-out argument.

Sorry for hijacking the conversation.

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avatar 4 Anonymous

I agree. I can’t really understand the ‘blame the teachers’ attitude. Sure theres a few bad teachers we should get rid of. Then what? Its not as if the 1-10% of bad teachers are causing 100% of the education problems which have mostly crept up in the past 2-4 decades. We had 1-10% bad teachers in the 50’s and 70’s too. No offense to teachers, you all know theres a few out there that don’t do a very good job.

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avatar 5 Anonymous

I’ve found that those who blame the school system in this case are also the ones who have chosen not to become financially literate themselves and instead sit back and expect the school system to do it for them.

The public school system can’t do everything and expecting it to do so is courting disaster. My wife and I have taken to viewing public school as a basic foundation that we, the parents, extend as we see fit.

Great resources Flexo, thanks for sharing!

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avatar 6 Ceecee

This financial education is long overdue, and very welcome. I do wonder about the aspect of corporate sponsorship. I hope that they are not pushing their own products as “better” for people in some way. I always thought that financial education could be built into math class because they are so intertwined. It would make kids realize that they will indeed use some of the math they learn in “real life.”

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avatar 7 Anonymous

I’m reminded of a clip from the Simpsons where they flash forward to the future with desks stacked 3 high in bunkbed style and a teacher is presenting ‘Pepsi presents Addition and Subtraction’. A childs confused sounding answer of ‘Pepsi?’ to a Pepsi based math question gets them partial credit.

I have to be cynical that the companies sponsoring education programs are influencing the material in any education program they present. Is Capital one presenting credit card debt as a good or bad thing? Are they toning down the negatives of credit cards? I’d assume so. I don’t trust a company to put unbiased education above their own profit motives and biases.

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avatar 8 Anonymous

When I worked at a CPA firm in DC we would go teach a whole JA program in a day. It was great, the kids loved it and we enjoyed teaching kids about finances, business, and entrepreneurship. Our firm went to an elementary school and it was great to get the kids asking question so early in life.

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avatar 9 Anonymous

These programs are good to know about. The Vanguard Group also just launched a financial literacy program called My Classroom Economy. They created lesson plans for elementary, middle and high schools.

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avatar 10 wylerassociate

I think it’s great the these financial companies are sponsoring these financial literacy programs. The smarter americans are about financial literacy the better off we all are.

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avatar 11 qixx

I prefer my financial education in schools to come from the likes of Dave Ramsey and his programs or Robert Kiyosaki and his programs for schools than that of other corporate finance brands. At least these two brands are considered to be interested in those learning and i don’t see them changing their programs and message to pad their bottom line.

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