Alum supports financial literacy

With Commencement looming two months away, the Financial Aid Office and Undergraduate Career Services are racing to prepare Yale seniors for life after graduation, especially in the sometimes daunting realm of personal finance. But the University’s current offerings may not be enough.

Though the Financial Aid Office launched an initiative last month to promote knowledge among students about basic financial matters such as banking and credit debt, students are also turning to outside sources for information. In an effort to help seniors organize their postgraduation finances, Stephen Blum ’74, director of strategic initiatives for the Association of Yale Alumni, plans to hold informal Q-and-A finance sessions starting in April in the residential colleges and in the Graduate School, sponsored by the AYA and Students and Alumni of Yale, or STAY. Titled “Financial Life After Yale,” the sessions will touch on topics such as budgeting, taxes, rent and insurance.

“It’s sort of a grassroots counterpart to the very good thing the folks at the Financial Aid Office are doing,” said Blum, who worked as an accountant for more than 40 years. “There’s a hunger [among students] for basic information.”

Blum first introduced the idea of the sessions to Branford College Master Elizabeth Bradley, who was enthusiastic about the meetings because students had approached her before to ask for a program on financial planning, she said. Bradley added that the sessions target seniors because those students are the most concerned with how to “remain independent next year, when out of college.”

Though the topic of college students’ financial literacy has gained national traction in recent years, Yale only began pushing for increased financial preparedness this semester. Financial Aid Director Caesar Storlazzi said his office plans to hold several literacy sessions in the upcoming semesters. Undergraduate Career Services Director Jeanine Dames said UCS, which offers a financial literacy discussion each year as part of its “Life After Yale” series, will invite a financial expert to talk about insurance and taxes this year, in response to student requests.

Blum said his sessions will be less structured than the ones planned by the Financial Aid Office and UCS, in order to address students’ specific questions rather than simply provide general information.

The sessions also have the potential to expand beyond a Q-and-A format. Blum said he may partner on the financial literacy front with prominent author Keith Ferrazzi ’88, who focuses on financial education. Brannack McLain, manager of Ferrazzi’s Greenlight Giving College Connect program, which helps students develop professional skills, said the future curriculum may include a “series of missions” to increase financial literacy. For instance, one “mission” invites participants to pay only in cash for one week, to make them more aware of the flow of cash in their lives.

“The best way for people to learn something is to experience stuff hands-on and get the support of a peer group in that process,” McLain said. “People don’t learn by reading or talking or writing — they learn by actually getting out there and doing something.”

If expanded, Ferrazzi’s full program could begin next semester.

Both Dames and AYA Director Mark Dollhopf said financial literacy is a relevant topic for students, especially those who are close to leaving Yale and will need to have immediate financial knowledge.

“There are so many nuances when talking about finances,” Dames said. “There are some things students haven’t had to deal with before.”

Blum said the “choices of how to invest, save and so forth have exploded” in recent years, causing personal finance also to become more complicated. Additionally, as debt levels and living costs skyrocket, Blum said teaching financial literacy to students is more important than ever before.

Blum’s first “Financial Life After Yale” session will be held in Branford on April 2, followed by two more in Jonathan Edwards and Ezra Stiles on April 14.

Comments