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NIU, community financial literacy projects join to expand educational impact across region

December 6, 2011

Back and front of 2011 U.S. pennyWhether the stock market goes up or down, NIU financial literacy programs have been teaching people how to make good economic decisions for more than 60 years.

University and community organizations now are coming together to bring more attention and resources to those efforts.

The Financial Literacy Collaborative combines the work of seven organizations that include NIU students, Junior Achievement and local businesses, and organizations that deliver economic education at all levels of the P-20 continuum from preschool through graduate school.

During the past year, members of the collaborative have provided educational activities for an impressive array of local P-20 students and teachers.

  • Financial Cents involved more than 500 NIU students in activities such as in-class presentations, student organization outreach, residence hall workshops and an interactive trivia game show.
  • Twenty College of Business students taught 20 classes for Junior Achievement in area schools.
  • NIU Center for Economic Education delivered professional development to 26 K-12 teachers at its inaugural workshop this month, and has involved more than 3,600 students in the NIU region through the Stock Market Game and Economics Poster Contest this past year.
  • Econ Illinois delivered personal finance and economics education to 1,678 teachers and impacted more than 104,000 K-12 students across Illinois through its affiliated centers and through face- to-face and online activities.
  • Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning facilitates hands-on opportunities for NIU students to connect what they are learning in their classrooms with real-world, off-campus problems and community needs, including economic and financial literacy.
  • Junior Achievement and Ideal Industries worked with K-12 students in 24 classes at the DeKalb and Sycamore schools.
In a recent reception, Economics Poster Contest winners from Naperville met with Mayor Arthur Pradel and received their state and regional awards.

In a recent reception, Economics Poster Contest winners from Naperville met with Mayor Arthur Pradel and received their state and regional awards.

In February and March, the collaborative will offer economics and personal finance activities to hundreds of talented middle school and high school students and their families when they are on campus for the annual History Fair and the Science Fair.  They will learn that higher education can be affordable despite the Great Recession.

Dana Gautcher, director of the Office of Student Academic Success, convenes meetings of the collaborative.

“Through Financial Cents, an organization managed by NIU peer leaders, we help NIU students learn to manage financial aid, avoid excessive credit card debt, and make good budget decisions. In turn, NIU students work with Junior Achievement to deliver popular lessons on personal finance to K-12 classrooms in Sycamore and DeKalb.”

“The value of this collaboration lies in pooling our resources for better and more effective learning experiences,” says Joanne Dempsey, executive director of Econ Illinois. “Sharing our individual areas of expertise can strengthen each program and expand our reach throughout the region.”

With widespread economic distress dominating headlines from coast to coast, demand for financial literacy programs is on the upswing.  Formation of the Financial Literacy Collaborative comes at a time when local school district resources are shrinking, and “extras” such as economic education don’t always survive the budget axe.

Some of the programs offered by the partners are grant-supported and free to schools.

This “Opportunity Cost” poster by a local third grader was a regional contender in the Economics Poster Contest.

This “Opportunity Cost” poster by a local third grader was a regional contender in the Economics Poster Contest.

Kay Chapman, coordinator for NIU’s Center for Economic Education, says the time has never been better to provide students with the knowledge they need to make informed financial decisions.

“We introduce simple economic concepts in ways kids can understand,” she says.

“What are the benefits over time of bringing a lunch from home versus going out to a fast food restaurant? What are the pros and cons of buying a new jacket versus wearing a less trendy model? These are real examples that help young people understand the advantages of putting money away every week instead of spending every penny of that allowance or paycheck.”

Beth Towell, associate dean of the College of Business, says that participation in the collaborative resulted in the College of Business expanding students’ engagement with Junior Achievement.

Beth Towell

Beth Towell

“Business students really enjoy teaching with Junior Achievement’s excellent materials in the local schools,” Towell says.

“The College of Business is looking forward to connecting with college-bound students interested in studying business at the upcoming science and history fairs to be held at NIU,” she adds. “The college wants to make sure that these students and their families realize there is a nationally recognized business school right in their back yard.”

The Financial Literacy Collaborative looks to expand in the future by getting more community partners involved.

Glen Hollister, a vice president at Sycamore-based Ideal Industries, brought Junior Achievement into the partnership.

“There is plenty of room for other corporations and local businesses to participate in teaching K-12 students and their families about how to make good decisions on personal finance issues and to understand basic principles of economics,” Hollister says.

Ideal Industries is an active advocate for Junior Achievement’s classroom projects and mentors the College of Business students who volunteer time to deliver Junior Achievement programs in schools. Junior Achievement offers a wide variety of classroom activities for elementary, middle school and high school students, involving business employees and university students in working with classroom teachers.

To learn more about the services, programs and events provided by partners of The Financial Literacy Collaborative, visit