Penn State Harrisburg researchers study teaching of financial literacy

In today’s unstable economic climate, the need for financial literacy is greater than ever. A team of Penn State Harrisburg researchers recently studied the ways that adults are being taught about this important topic.

In their recent study, Professor of Adult Education Elizabeth Tisdell, Professor of Adult Education Edward Taylor, and doctor of education candidate Karin Sprow explored methods used to teach adult learners in community-based settings in the growing field of financial literacy. The research comes at a turbulent economic time in which perceptions about credit and personal finances are changing. “In today’s world, people don’t always give immediate thought to the connection between swiping credit cards and spending money,” Tisdell said. As an outcome of the recession, more financial literacy programs are being developed at places such as community centers, schools, and in the workplace.

The researchers, who teamed with the college’s Center for Survey Research, distributed an on-line survey to hundreds of community-based financial literacy programs across the nation to determine teachers’ beliefs and best practices in teaching methods. In the study, more than 95 percent of teachers agreed on three goals for financial education programs: provide students with basic financial information, promote financially-responsible behavior, and help students make informed financial decisions.

Several financial educators were also interviewed as part of the study. Many of these teachers reported that students’ attitudes about finances were affected by their emotions and their social or ethnic background, specifically, their family’s legacy or financial situation. Most teachers also reported that individuals developed beliefs and feelings about money during childhood. To change beliefs of individuals who hold negative views about personal finances, which may stem from a bad financial situation or decision, family legacies must first be changed, said Tisdell. As one subject in the survey noted, “The dollars are not [a person’s] legacy, the attitudes are the legacy.”

The research results have practical applications for those attempting to develop financial education activities in local communities. People like Rev. Susanne Marsh, associate pastor of the Unitarian Church of Harrisburg, can use the study results in their work to develop financial education programs locally. “What we’ve learned will help Rev. Marsh and others to develop an ongoing financial literacy program in the Allison Hill area of Harrisburg while partnering with area churches and community-based programs,” said Tisdell. The study results will help organizations to create more personalized financial education programs that match their community’s needs more directly, Tisdell said.

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Last Updated October 19, 2010