Students get smart about money

Monday, April 30, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:15 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Recent college graduate Erica Brooks wasn’t exactly overcome with excitement when she decided to take a course in personal financial planning during her final semester at MU.

“I thought, ‘That’s really boring,’” she recalled. “That’s what parents are for.”

Nearly three years later, Brooks considers those lessons in debt management, retirement planning and prudent spending some of her most valuable college experiences.

Brooks, a graphic designer for a magazine publisher in Phoenix, is not alone. While many college students’ conception of money management means little more than paying monthly cell phone bills, others are catching on, said Robert Weagley, chairman of the campus’ department of financial planning.

At MU, the introductory class has become one of the department’s most popular offerings.

“Saving money and having financial security is a particularly rare form of freedom,” Weagley said.

Not all colleges and universities have been as quick to embrace the mission of teaching their youthful charges fiscal responsibility.

“Some just view it as more like a trade school,” said David Kurtz, a distinguished professor of management at the University of Arkansas’ Sam M. Walton College of Business. “If it’s practical, it’s not academic.”

But that attitude is slowly changing, according to Weagley. He noted that household finance was the topic of a prominent speech by Harvard economist John Campbell at the American Finance Association’s 2006 annual meeting.

As the role of money management gains increasing relevance in the life of the American consumer, more business schools — which are disproportionately skewed toward studies of corporate finance — are embracing personal finance, Weagley said.

“Personal finance is a huge part of the economy,” he said. “As we pass more and more responsibility on people to manage their own money ... businesses in that economy are depending on people making good financial decisions.”

At MU, students in the introductory personal and family finance course study the basics of taxes, insurance and money management. They learn about the dizzying array of financial choices such as retirement plan deductions, investment options and even estate planning that await in the real world.

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