Personal Finance 101

Personal Finance 101

During her four years of teaching personal finance at Hampton University, Lisa L. Martin has seen students who have never even broached the subject of financial planning.

And what they don’t know about financial planning can hurt them and the future of black wealth. “We’ve had seniors that are graduating and have very good GPAs but they can’t get a job because their credit scores are bad,” Martin says.

Martin, 37, is an instructor at the School of Business at Hampton who says there is a lot students don’t understand about personal finance. “I could probably fill the whole semester with question-and-answer sessions. Until you’re exposed to financial planning, you just don’t know.”

Martin is among a number of faculty pushing for the funding and establishment of personal financial planning programs at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). “I have proposed to add a personal finance minor and a certificate program at Hampton,” she says.

Faculty at HBCUs hope that this curriculum will not only teach the students financial literacy but also prepare them to become financial planners. Financial services giant ING U.S. Financial Services provided $250,000 in seed money to start funding the training for HBCU faculty members. For the past two summers, Martin has taken courses at Texas Tech University toward a personal finance doctorate. In July, she will take an exam to become a certified financial planner. With the CFP designation, Martin will be able to help Hampton establish a recognized and registered financial program.

College graduates entering the workforce need financial mentors to teach them how to select the appropriate life insurance plans and contribution rates for 401(k)s, says Jan R. Jasper, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the College of Business at Prairie View A&M University.

In 2004, Jasper helped coordinate Prairie View’s partnership with Texas Tech to develop a personal financial planning program. Other HBCUs participating in the personal financial training at Texas Tech include: Alcorn State, Florida A&M, Hampton, Southern University-New Orleans, North Carolina A&T, and Texas Southern.

Congressional Black Caucus Chair Mel Watt (D-N.C.) applauds the efforts of HBCU faculty to further financial literacy on their campuses. Watt, who serves on the House Committee on Financial Services, says there’s been a big push for financial literacy education and counseling. Winston-Salem State University, which is in Watt’s district, also has a financial planning program “well on the way,” Jasper says. “A lot of people get off on the wrong personal financial track by not understanding the whole financial process related to loans and maintaining a good financial record,” Watt says. “Once you get on that debt treadmill, it’s just hard to get off.” A bad credit score, Watt says is “like having a bad criminal record. Once you have the first default, it sets off a series of bad reports.”