Financial literacy workshops expand

Yale students past and present are learning to balance their budgets.

Last year, the Association of Yale Alumni and the Yale College Council began hosting separate workshops designed to help students learn to manage their finances.

According to John Caserta ’01 – who is the founder of the New Haven financial planning firm Caserta & Co and volunteers to help lead the AYA workshops — the events feature presentations on critically important issues such as budgeting, taxes, employee benefits and retirement plans. Administrators and alumni interviewed said the number of scheduled workshops has increased this year as a result of their surprising popularity. For the first time, the AYA will also travel beyond campus to spread the message of financial literacy to alumni living in San Francisco, Chicago, Washington D.C., Cambridge, Massachusetts and New York City.

“Financial literacy is a huge knowledge gap at Yale, and it’s one we need to fill,” said Stephen Blum ’74, director of strategic initiatives for AYA. “The response has been overwhelming, I’ve been surprised by how many students have attended these events.”

Blum, who leads the presentations with Caserta, said the AYA has hosted over 40 workshops during the last year. The financial literacy program, which started as a couple of workshops held in Branford and other colleges, grew organically but quickly.

Blum said each residential college will have hosted at least two workshops by the end of the 2013-’14 year because of the support of the Council of Masters. According to data collected by the AYA, the workshops have attracted over 800 unique attendees. Blum said approximately 70 percent of the audience was made up of undergraduates while 20 percent were students from Yale’s graduate or professional schools. Ten percent of the audience were young alumni, he said.

Mary Kiare ’14 said the AYA financial literacy workshop that she attended was dense, but also helpful and “enlightening” because it made her recognize that she took many financial responsibilities for granted. At Yale, she said she never thinks about how much the University pays for electricity or internet connection, but she now realizes she will have to start thinking about finances after graduating.

“We learn a lot of things [at Yale], but no one tells you how to manage your finances,” Kiare said. “I think it’s something that [students] need to hear about more.”

Caserta said the number of young alumni who participate in these workshops encouraged AYA to travel across the country and bring these workshops to areas with high numbers of recent graduates.

Financial Aid Director Caesar Storlazzi said the financial illiteracy of college students has become a national issue that he and his counterparts at other schools continually discuss at conferences.

Storlazzi said that although the Yale College Dean’s Office has wanted to increase financial literacy on campus for a number of years, no tangible initiatives were introduced until last year, when the Financial Aid Office, in collaboration with the YCC, hosted two financial literacy forums for undergraduate students. Unlike the PowerPoint presentations that characterize the AYA financial literacy forums, Storlazzi said the Financial Aid Office-sponsored forums followed a question and answer format.

Although the Financial Aid Office has not increased the number of financial literacy forums that it will host this spring compared to last year, Storlazzi said he hopes to expand the program in future years. Still, he emphasized that students can always walk into the Student Financial Services center and ask for financial planning advice.

“There seems a misconception that we’re an office only to give you financial aid and advice for your time at Yale,” he said, adding that he wants to change that perception by also helping advise students on their personal finances as young adults.

Storlazzi said the YCC has been a partner in spreading this message. He added that he hopes the YCC will help enhance the Financial Aid Office’s web presence and let his office know which issues are of particular importance to students.

Though Caserta said he was unaware of the financial literacy forums organized by the YCC and the Financial Aid Office, he said he would be  interested in collaborating with the office in the future. Blum said the AYA often collaborates with organizations on an ad-hoc basis, citing the group’s past partnerships with the Junior Class Council, the Senior Class Council and Undergraduate Career Services as examples of the AYA’s flexibility.

Director of UCS Jeanine Dames said her office produces an annual publication entitled “Life After Yale” with several chapters dedicated to personal finance. One such chapter of the publication is entitled “Million-Dollar Retirement Advice for the Future Millionaire,” while another is called “Living Within Your Means: Money and Taxes.” Dames said UCS posts these resources online so that alumni who cannot attend a live workshop because of scheduling conflicts can access them on their own time. She added that UCS advisors are also accessible to all alumni, regardless of when they graduated. Many alumni ask the office for advice in these matters, she said.

All 10 students interviewed said they support both the joint-YCC-Financial Aid Office forums and the expanded AYA workshops.

“This is not something we learn in class but it’s just as important as our classes,” Harry Shamansky ’16 said.

Kendra Dawsey ’14, a senior who was not aware of these workshops, said she would have attended had she known about them in advance. She added that she appreciated the breadth of the AYA presentations because they would allow her to identify areas where she needs to do more research on her own.

The two YCC-Financial Aid Office financial literacy forums are scheduled for Feb. 28 and April 8.

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