Helping Youth Learn Lifelong Money Management Skills: Spotlight on Young Americans Center for Financial Education

Many young people grow up unprepared to be in charge of their own financial well-being.  An August 2020 report: Millennials and Money, noted “Millennials tend to rely heavily on debt, engage frequently in expensive short-and long-term money management and display low levels of financial literacy”. The report calls for greater financial education as “Financial literacy is strongly connected with individuals’ financial outcomes and money management behavior.”

Young Americans Center for Financial Education, a Denver-based nonprofit, is delivering. A pioneer in financial education for youth, the Center utilizes a unique approach that teaches personal finance, economics, business and entrepreneurship in a fun and hands-on way to more than 70,000 young people every year. These beloved educational programs focus on the critical grades fifth through eighth, when students are the perfect age to develop healthy financial habits for life. 

Teachers use the Center’s curriculum and resources to prepare students for a hands-on, real-life culminating activity: Running a town of working businesses or a global economy of 16 countries, or pitching their business idea to a panel of professional judges. 

Young AmeriTowne participants learn money management, free enterprise, economics, civics and philanthropy; and International Towne takes these concepts a step further by teaching interdependence, supply and demand, personal finance, credit and cultural awareness. YouthBiz introduces students to the entrepreneurial mindset and gives them invaluable business skills as they go through the complete startup process. 

The programs are particularly impactful for low-income students, a strategic target market for the Center. 

“This is serious financial literacy education done right. Young AmeriTowne has such an impact on my students they feel empowered to be better people,” says Brian Sherry a teacher participant in the Center’s Send-a-School program. “By being better people, they will be better students. Eventually they will become better parents and employees.” Sherry is from Aurora Public Schools, one of the districts committed to enrolling all their at-risk schools in Young AmeriTowne in their Send-a-School program.

This approach is increasingly validated by academic researchers. A study by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau titled, “Financial well-being: The goal of financial education,” (January 2015) identified traits associated with positive financial decision-making that “appear to be more malleable during certain windows of time in childhood or youth” than for adults or even older teens. It also singled out experiential learning as “a far more powerful way to gain functional skills” than traditional classroom settings.

Results from a two-year impact study of the Young AmeriTowne program confirm these findings.  The study results demonstrate students’ statistically significant gains in important areas including personal finance, decision making and civic engagement.  And perhaps best of all? Their attitudes towards school improved overall.  

This type of real-world education prepares youth to manage their finances, leading to financial independence for individuals and families – it is essential. Ultimately, a generation of financially-savvy youth will provide strong economic development opportunities for communities.

The Center thanks Alpine Bank for its leadership role in bringing these programs and their lessons to students across Colorado, from the Front Range to Western Slope communities as far away as Grand Junction and Durango. 

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