by Brenda Campbell, President & CEO, Make A Difference – Wisconsin

I’m not a person who relies on crystal balls and tea leaves. As the leader of a financial literacy organization, I’ve seen the problems that can occur from guesswork and odds.

However, with nearly a decade in financial literacy, I can safely say there are a few trends that stand out. Given the state of personal finance nationally – any number of reports (like this one or this one) veer toward doom and gloom – I’m always open to fresh, worthwhile solutions.

So, with schools back in session, allow me to indulge in some careful prognostication. Here are the two “big picture” ideas I see becoming reality this year in the realm of financial literacy.

Prediction One: A statewide appetite for financial education. It probably comes as no surprise that I’m all for sensible mandates on financial literacy courses in high schools. Not a political stance, I’ve seen how teenagers are better prepared for careers, college and adulthood when they’ve had a solid personal finance underpinning. Without a mandate for courses on budgeting, saving and credit in Wisconsin, we get slammed with poor “grades” for financial literacy. I feel these reports don’t provide the full story of the positive momentum happening across the state.

School districts have made personal finance a priority, implementing lessons in History courses or hiring on educators with an economics or business background. Businesses, particularly those in the banking industry with a vested interest in the future of finance, have stepped up their investments in workshops and volunteering. The state legislature took an encouraging step this month as they crafted a bill to include personal finance coursework at state universities and technical colleges. Every month, I’m enthused by input from students and alumni of our programs, who say lessons they learned on managing money have become part of their everyday behavior.

It would be my hope that this year gives the strongest evidence yet that teenagers with a strong foundation in financial literacy improve the health for our entire community.

Prediction Two: Silicon Valley complements the classroom. The changes from technology have been among the most sweeping in business and culture. Education, like healthcare or government, often lags behind in adoption of these changes. On the other end of the adoption spectrum, financial institutions are often at the forefront. I believe digital learning opportunities in financial literacy will become the norm this year.

There are cool, tech-first organizations in Chicago and elsewhere that have started to gain traction from their use of apps in the classroom. Our volunteers, many of them working as financial professionals, have had great resources to share with students like the budgeting app Mint. According to educators, there is science behind bringing on complementary tech. Tim Meyer, school support teacher at James Madison Academic Campus (JMAC), recently shared with a group of our volunteers that 50% of students at JMAC are “visual learners” and another 35% are “kinesthetic.” This creates an incredible opportunity for hands-on digital educational tools.

I have directed a special project at Make A Difference – Wisconsin to dig more deeply into the potential of enhancing mentor experiences with software modules. We’re in the early phases of testing a program that I’ll share more about later in the year. With the response so far from high school students, the results have been very encouraging.

Predicting the future is tricky business, in finance or in general. You don’t have to look farther than the Great Recession to see how quickly expectations can change course for everyone. Our teenage financial literacy students have spent their lives in the shadows of that Recession, and have come away with different expectations of careers, money and livelihood. As it relates to finances, let’s make sure we’re preparing them for what could lie ahead. Their future is now.

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