NEST Provides Free Online Financial Literacy Program for Nebraska High Schools

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By Don Stenberg

More than nine hundred Nebraska high school students from more than fifty schools across the state have started thinking about their own personal finances and their financial futures through a free program announced less than a year ago by the Nebraska State Treasurer’s Office.

The program, called Nebraska NEST Financial Scholars, is part of an initiative by the Treasurer’s Office to promote financial literacy education for high school students and to increase awareness of the state-sponsored 529 college savings program known as the Nebraska Educational Savings Trust (NEST).

Nebraska NEST Financial Scholars uses an interactive, Web-based curriculum developed by EverFi, an educational technology company in Washington, D.C. The online program engages students to learn critical life skills regarding personal finance and money management and focuses on subjects like college savings, credit cards, credit scores, insurance, interest rates, mortgages, and stocks. To hold students’ attention, EverFi relies on a variety of new media technologies including video, animation, 3-D gaming, avatars, and social networking.

EverFi’s financial literacy course is offered in ten modules and takes about eight hours to complete. When students finish the program, they receive certificates and badges they can post to their favorite social media platforms and refer to on their applications for college and for employment.

After taking office as State Treasurer in 2011, I looked for ways to encourage Nebraska high school students to become more financially literate. At the same time I was searching for new ways to increase awareness of NEST, our excellent state-sponsored 529 college savings program. These two efforts came together in May 2013 when I announced that NEST would be the statewide sponsor of Nebraska NEST Financial Scholars.

Two forces guided that decision: We wanted to encourage financial education statewide, and we wanted to increase awareness of the benefits of saving for college through NEST.

I should note that before NEST became the statewide sponsor, several high schools across Nebraska had already implemented the EverFi financial literacy program with the sponsorship of local banks.

The Nebraska NEST Financial Scholars program grew out of my desire, as the state’s chief financial officer, to provide financial literacy education to all Nebraska high school students at no cost to the students or the schools or the taxpayers. That preparation and knowledge will help students make good decisions about their personal finances so they will be able to reach their goals and achieve their dreams.

We are offering Nebraska NEST Financial Scholars to Nebraska high schools because this program reinforces my strong belief—as state treasurer and as a father of four grown children and grandfather of nine—that financial knowledge is an absolutely essential piece of a well-rounded education and a productive future. I believe that basic financial knowledge is critical to our goal of developing financially responsible, productive citizens who can move our state and our economy forward and who will be able to manage their own finances and their families’ finances in an increasingly complex financial system.

While NEST has provided the initial funding for statewide sponsorship of EverFi in Nebraska, EverFi is continuing to work with local banks, foundations, and corporations to provide additional funding to support the program in Nebraska. A list of local banks that are sponsoring EverFi in their communities is available through the Treasurer’s Office.

In addition to the program for high school students, NEST also offers Nebraska NEST Financial Scholars for Families, an online tutorial that introduces parents and grandparents to state-sponsored 529 college savings programs like NEST. The tutorial takes about fifteen minutes to complete and, like the high school program, can be accessed at the Treasurer’s Office website at www.treasurer.org.

Nebraska NEST Financial Scholars for Families, also developed by EverFi, provides an interactive overview of 529 college savings plans, including the advantages of a 529 plan, how a 529 plan works, how to calculate ideal monthly savings, and frequently asked questions. The program is flexible, designed to fit around busy schedules.

In addition to offering EverFi’s financial literacy platform and its 529 tutorial, the Nebraska Educational Savings Trust also has committed significant financial resources to awarding college savings accounts as prizes in the Personal Finance Challenge competition. The statewide competition is sponsored annually by the Nebraska Council on Economic Education.

For the past two years the Nebraska Educational Savings Trust has awarded $14,000 each year to members of the three top teams in the state competition. Teams usually are made up of four students. Members of the first-place team each receive a $2,000 college savings account, members of the second-place team each receive a $1,000 savings account, and members of the third-place team each receive a $500 savings account.

The winning team in the state last year was from Johnson-Brock High School, the second-place team was from West Point-Beemer High School, and the third-place team was from Burwell High School. This year’s state competition is April 19 in Lincoln, Omaha, and Kearney. The winner will go to the national competition in May in St. Louis, Missouri.

My interest in helping young Nebraskans become more knowledgeable about personal finances is shared by many others at the state and local levels. I applaud the Nebraska Department of Education for recognizing the importance of financial literacy by including financial literacy education requirements in the new state social studies standards for Nebraska schools. And I thank the Nebraska Council on Economic Education for sponsoring statewide competitions that encourage students to improve their understanding of personal finances.

I recognize that school budgets are tight and that new state standards require high schools to teach personal finance. I also know that students find themselves faced with many decisions about scheduling courses that will prepare them for their future goals. Furthermore, I understand the concerns facing families as they look for effective and responsible ways to save for their sons’ and daughters’ higher educational needs without incurring large debt or overly restricting family budgets.

I tell students when I visit their schools that one way to understand the value of financial literacy education is to look at what happens when people don’t make wise financial decisions.

In the early 2000s many people borrowed money to buy homes but didn’t do their homework and, in the end, didn’t have the money to make their monthly mortgage payments. Many lost their homes, and the resulting housing market collapse nearly ruined the financial system of the United States. Other examples of poor financial decision-making are seen in defaults on student loans, rising credit card debt among young people, and family discord from arguments over finances.

We know that taking on financial obligations beyond one’s ability to pay—whether for a house loan, a student loan, or a car loan—will affect a young person’s quality of life in the short term and his or her ability to save for the future in the long term.

My parents lived through the Great Depression. So when I was growing up in Tekamah, they emphasized the need to be careful handling money. Later, my education at the Harvard Business School provided me the opportunity to gain a very solid understanding of budgeting and finance. As Nebraska state treasurer, I use that knowledge every day in addressing the important financial matters that come before me.

At the State Treasurer’s Office we are confident that our financial literacy initiative will benefit Nebraska teachers, Nebraska high school students, and Nebraska parents. And we encourage schools across Nebraska—both large and small districts—to seek teacher training and get started with the EverFi instructional program through the Treasurer’s Office website at www.treasurer.org.

Ultimately, we believe this program will benefit the State of Nebraska as we provide our young people with the financial literacy information they need to live out their dreams as financially responsible adults … and as we provide families the information and tools they need to build the financial foundation where these dreams can take hold.

To learn more about bringing Nebraska NEST Financial Scholars to your school, contact Jessica Feimer, EverFi Schools manager for Nebraska, at jfeimer[at]everfi[dot]com or 402-651-7171. To learn more about NEST, contact Rachel Biar, College Savings Program director, Nebraska State Treasurer’s Office, at Rachel[dot]biar[at]nebraska[dot]gov or 402-471-1088.

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