These Public Schools Found a Weird Way to Fund Personal Finance Classes

personal finance education

Boston Public Schools will provide financial education to 6,000 high school students, thanks to a grant from… a credit card company?

Discover Financial Services’ Pathway to Financial Success Program awarded the district $180,000 to implement the program in 30 public high schools. It’s part of $10 million Discover committed to awarding when it launched the program in 2012, and the program has since reached schools in Detroit, Chicago, Miami and even smaller districts in places like Iowa.

“By accepting the grant from Discover, Boston Public Schools has agreed to have students take a financial literacy test before and after they’ve gone through the new curriculum,” Olivia Vanni of BostInno explained. It’s not clear when BPS will start offering the courses.

Schools that have run its program have seen financial literacy scores increase as much as 24%, says Discover.

Discover works with the Council for Economic Education (CEE) and WeAreTeachers (an online hub for classroom teachers) to develop lessons for the program.

Wait, Doesn’t Discover Offer Credit Cards?

You might think personal finance education from a credit card issuer is a scam, or at least feels a bit sleazy.

We were skeptical, too.

But we took a closer look at the lesson plans provided by Discover, CEE and WeAreTeachers. Turns out the Pathways program is pretty comprehensive.

The program — available at elementary, middle and high school levels — keeps it pretty basic for the younger students.

“Do I want it or do I need it?” the first elementary-level lesson asks students to consider. It’s a way to boost math skills, while also getting students to think about money beyond something that might come from mom or dad’s pockets seemingly on demand.

By the time they get to high school, Discover’s students tackle budgeting, paystubs, smart credit consumption and paying for college. They also complete exercises about personal loans, the stock market and investing to build wealth.

CEE’s investing and financial future exercises are a little more textbook.

In one lesson, students are asked to develop an investment plan for an example client, based on the level of risk the client is comfortable with.

The WeAreTeachers/Pathway lessons are a bit more touchy-feely. In one, students are encouraged to ask their parents how old they think someone should be when they get their first credit card, before learning what it means to be creditworthy.

Why Would Financial Institutions Invest in Education?

With extensive financial education being left out of curricula in, let’s face it, most schools, Discover is stepping up to the plate.

It’s not the only bank to do it, either.

Junior Achievement, which has been providing personal finance education in schools since this writer was a wee one, often teams up with local bankers to teach classes; banks like Capital One frequently sponsor such programs.

Offering personal finance education is a huge sign of goodwill.

Granted, a bank won’t make millions off the credit card holders of tomorrow (we hope). But a student who completes Discover’s program might be more likely to turn to Discover for their first credit card.

It’s the classic marketing technique of providing value first to attract potential customers. These customers just aren’t old enough to get a personal loan — yet.

Teachers, Want These Lesson Plans?

The coolest thing about Discover’s program is that, while Boston schools received funding to run the program, the lesson plans are available completely free online.

Teachers who feel desperate to educate their students — even when budgets are tight — can slip these lessons right into their math classes, or maybe even into what remains of the country’s home-economics programs.

And any school can apply for the grant money the Boston schools received, as long as it pledges to measure results of the program and share those results with Discover so the company can measure the program’s effectiveness.

Your Turn: Did you learn about personal finance in school?

Lisa Rowan is a writer, editor and podcaster living in Washington, D.C. She learned how to use a checkbook in seventh-grade Junior Achievement class.