Student offers financial literacy class

Several teenage African-American girls from New Haven Public Schools gathered in a Yale Health Center conference room last Thursday, not to hang out or do homework, but to learn about finance.

The unlikely gathering was orchestrated by Rahul Singh ’15, a Yale economics and math major, who has decided to use his education to teach high school students about financial literacy. The class meets for two hours every Thursday for six weeks and covers topics such as checking accounts, saving accounts, loans, credit cards, paying for college and cars and entrepreneurship. Singh, who came up with the idea for the class while tutoring at New Haven Reads, said that teaching students about money management at a young age will fill an important niche in the New Haven community.

During his second class — for which 10 students registered — Singh explained the importance of savings accounts.

“When you save, you pay your future self,” Singh said. He encouraged the group to come to the whiteboard and write their reasons for saving money. Some of their responses included clothes, college, wedding and gas, though all the students listed future goals. Singh explained to the class that “money can grow,” emphasizing that saving is the way to accomplish their goals.

Though the class was open to all students, Singh was surprised to find that only females showed up to the first class. The reason, Singh said, is that the girls’ mothers forced their daughters to take it in anticipation of future financial struggles.

Though only a high school senior, Agape Cogswell said that she has already seen how necessary it is to handle money responsibly after holding her first job this summer as a camp counselor.

“When you start getting money, you don’t know what to do with it,” she said.

Cogswell wants to go to college in New York City next year, a goal she said will take significant financial planning. One of her friends, she explained, was accepted to college but was unable to attend after receiving an insufficiently large financial aid package. Her friend tried taking online classes before ultimately dropping out of college — an example Cogswell said showed her what can happen when teens are not on top of their finances.

Singh said he believes that other students around the table at the Yale Health Center likely tell similar stories. For this reason, Singh is most excited about the lessons at the end of the course — including lessons on “paying for college and cars” — which he said should provide some practical wisdom that will help students where they are most in need.

The program is paid for by the Amy Rossborough fellowship, which is devoted to projects serving women in Greater New Haven, while the room was obtained through New Haven Reads, which has been supportive of the project since Singh pitched the idea.

“I thought it was a fabulous idea,” said Kristen Levinsohn, the director of New Haven Reads. “I knew that there was a huge need for that kind of thing.”

Singh said that the community response to the program has also indicated that there is a desire to have more financial literacy education in New Haven. He has already been asked to speak at Hill Regional Career High School to the Parent-Teacher Association on Nov. 14.

The 2012 Financial Literacy Survey of adults found that two in five U.S. adults gave themselves a C, D or F on their knowledge of personal finance.

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