June 24, 2018
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Youth financial literacy

By Russ Van Arsdale, executive director, Northeast Contact

A recent study found that four-year college graduates from Maine have school loan debts averaging $29,000.

Talk with a young person who’s fresh out of school and just starting an entry-level job, and you might hear a comment like this: “Some days I feel like I’m never going to be out of debt, I’m never going to be financially independent.”

Another might say, “I wish someone had told me how expensive it is to live on my own, and what kinds of expenses to expect.” That’s a real quote from a recent high school graduate, and it expresses the sentiment of many young people.

Just getting through school and landing that first job can be harrowing. Making their way through a university, community college or technical school can place demands on students that they hadn’t been prepared for. A young woman named Elayna summed up her most valuable lesson in postsecondary education this way: “Just learning how to stay on task, how to organize, how to stay ahead and realize that I just can’t make excuses.”

Many young people simply are not prepared for the complex world they find once they’ve left home. Sadly, many schools in Maine are not preparing students for the rigors of life after high school or college. A curriculum in financial education, rather than progressing through the grades, may be crammed into a last-semester, “senior special” class, if it is offered at all.

The organizers of a conference this Thursday in Augusta aim to change that. The second annual Fostering Financial Literacy in Maine Schools Summit is expected to draw educators from around the state. Those teachers will be gathering tools they can take back to their classrooms to help their students face the challenges the world will soon put in front of them.

The Summit is organized by Maine Jump$tart, a coalition of groups supporting financial literacy programs for young people. Jump$tart is active in 49 states and includes about 150 organizations from the for-profit, nonprofit and government sectors.

A basic theme of the conference is that young people need to hear life lessons — whether about money, jobs, relationships or any other aspect of living — from people who look and sound like them. Presenters will be stressing peer-to-peer communication, which can move economics from the “dismal science” label it’s worn for decades to the kind of lessons young people are eager to study.

If you want to hear more first-person accounts like the ones at the start of this column, visit the website http://navigatingtherealworld.org. The site features “what people have to say about life beyond school,” and it’s loaded with short video clips. In them, students and young people in the work world reflect on the things they’ve done right and wrong; they’re stories all young people can relate to.

Navigating the Real World Inc. is a Portland-based nonprofit; its founder and executive director, Tom Tracy, will be speaking at the summit. Other speakers will cover topics such as getting past paycheck-to-paycheck living, managing student debt, and planning for those who think they don’t have enough finances to make a plan.

It’s sound, down-to-earth advice. We commend conference organizers for their work to create brighter financial futures for Maine’s young people.

Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s membership-funded, nonprofit consumer organization. Individual and business memberships are available at modest rates. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for more information, write: Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer 04412, go to http://necontact.wordpress.com, or email contacexdir@live.com.

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