Saturday, April 08, 2006

The new math

Kids need financial literacy. The rates of young people racking up credit card debts and declaring bankruptcy are going through the roof. And with the recent cuts in student financial aid, that problem will get far worse before it gets better.

So what's a school to do? Already cash strapped and struggling to pay teachers adequate salaries and buy textbooks for traditional subjects, many schools are accepting financial materials from banks and investment houses free or charge. This raises serious potential problems. It reminds me way too much of the Channel One fiasco that was part of the reason Mr Abramoff is looking at 5 to 10.

From the Wall St. Journal:

All of this is fueling a debate over the appropriateness of using educational material developed by banks, financial advisers and credit-card issuers, since they have a vested interest in getting their marketing message in front of future customers. "Teachers become suspicious when materials have a logo," says Robert Duvall of the National Council on Economic Education, a New York nonprofit, nonpartisan group for improving economic literacy.

Troy Krogman, a high-school economics teacher in Spearfish, S.D., didn't pass out any branded handouts when a Wells Fargo banker guest lectured last year about bad check-writing among college freshman, because he was concerned the company was trying "to involve itself in the lives of kids before they get banking assistance."

Companies like Citigroup and Merrill Lynch & Co. say they are sensitive about issues like these, but hesitate to remove their names from materials they invested time and money developing.

I can understand that, too. This isn't exactly charity but it can't be bald marketing either. There's a very fine line between the two. I think the companies -- and I'm sure this will sound out of character for me -- should be allowed to develop brand awareness by putting their logos on materials they develop and pay for, but I don't think they should be able to advertise particular products, like free checking accounts or no-fee mutual funds or whatever. Part of the reason I think they should be allowed to use their brand -- no, all of the reason -- is that I feel so strongly that this should be an absolutely necessary component of any education.

I like the compromise struck in the last graf of the WSJ article:

Companies and educators are starting to develop some solutions. The Idaho Financial Literacy Coalition asks corporate speakers to sign a so-called nonmarketing agreement, stating they will maintain a "nonselling approach" and "will not solicit clients" during presentations.

In a perfect world, schools would have all the money they needed to develop their own materials. Need I remind anyone, this is decidedly not a perfect world. And it'll be a lot less perfect for a lot of people without adequate financial education.


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11:51 PM  

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