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June 2006
Volume 1, Number 6

Keeping Education Affordable by Teaching Financial Literacy

Kathy Johnson

small businessIt is common knowledge that income directly corresponds to education. It is also common knowledge that community colleges provide affordable education. As federal education funding continues to be cut, though, the question becomes, “How can community colleges keep education affordable?” At Wright College (IL), the answer is, “Teach financial literacy.”

In July, 2001, the City Colleges of Chicago made a commitment to the community to teach financial literacy through the Our Money Matters  program. In collaboration with the city treasurer’s office and various banking institutions, the classes are offered completely free and are held at the seven City Colleges and neighborhood groups. Wright College, one of the City Colleges, has taken financial literacy education one step further.

stocksWright College offers segments of the Our Money Matters program in seminars featuring the most prevalent topics, i.e., credit report, identity theft, debt elimination, and applying for a small business loan. Since January 28, 2006, the college has also been webcasting the seminars.

Wright College is able to provide this service thanks to a number of factors:

  1. Top management buy-in. Without the support of President Charles Guengerich and Dean Joseph Leary, the resources needed to organize this project would not be readily available. To truly implement a successful program, the entire college needed to be involved.
  2. Partnerships with groups whose mission includes economic development. It was amazing to see so many industry partners such as HSBC, Mastercard, SBLI/USA Insurance, The Chicago Community Trust, and H&R Block provide speakers and funding to support Wright College’s efforts. These efforts were also supported by Alejo Torres, Senior Outreach Program Manager of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. Torres coordinates Money Smart Week, an event that began in Chicago and is now branching out to other Midwest states.
  3. Commitment to increase in size and program complexity. Wright College’s program started small, with two basic classes on financial literacy. The program has increased to seven basic classes, with a commitment to further increase in size and program complexity.
  4. debtMarketing in free publications. The media were partners in Wright College’s success. Village News, a local community newspaper, contributed advertising space, and the Chicago Reader allowed a free listing for each event. Both publications also listed the course offerings on their websites.
  5. Assessing Success. Wright College uses a class evaluation for its financial literacy courses; however, the true measure of success will be in economic change in the community.  

Without federal funding, the financial burden shifts more to the individual. We must enable our communities to bear this burden. Education is the best way to do this, and community colleges are well situated to provide that affordable knowledge. Wright College has discovered one route that seems to be working.

Kathy Johnson is Director of Technical and Business Training at Wright College in Chicago, Illinois. Photos provided by Wright College.

Cynthia Wilson, Editor