Daniels graduate students and faculty teach workshops on the fundamentals of personal finance

Sharon Lassar leads a discussion of financial literacy.

Accountancy faculty member Sharon Lassar discusses financial literacy with a group of high school students.

Aurora Science & Tech High School’s freshman—and inaugural—class has had an unusual opportunity to learn an important skill often left out of the secondary school curriculum: financial literacy.

Throughout the winter quarter, students learned about everything from budgeting to investing from graduate students and faculty at the University of Denver’s School of Accountancy, who led six ninth-grade classes through workshops covering the fundamentals of personal finance. Each workshop was designed to provide a different set of skills that students can build on throughout their lives, says Sharon Lassar, the John J. Gilbert endowed professor and director of the School of Accountancy at the Daniels College of Business. “We’re setting the students up for long-term success, not just for college, but before and after.”

In January, students learned the ropes of income and budgeting, with an emphasis on the importance of saving. Many of the students are already putting what they learned to action, said Alexandre Scott, a ninth-grade biology teacher. “It’s relevant to them. Many students work with their families’ businesses. They’re saving for college already. You can see them starting to plan ahead,” she said. “This would have been so advantageous when I was in high school.”

In a second workshop, students learned how to be smart with credit. From the difference between debit and credit cards to the intricacies of car loans, the high schoolers gained insight into responsibly and effectively building and using credit. Instructors incorporated plenty of real-life examples and practical applications into classroom discussions, making the content real for students who have yet to apply for credit.

Kathleen Davisson, teaching professor and assistant director of the School of Accountancy, said that before the hour-long workshop was over, “students were already coming up with ways to build credit cheaply, and thinking about how they could help each other out in the most cost-effective way.”

A subsequent workshop gave an overview of the stock market and investing safely—a topic that many students expressed interest in.

In March, they dove into managing risk, learning the ins and outs of renting and purchasing auto and health insurance. Building on the skills acquired in previous workshops, students explored how different types of insurance policies can protect their property—whether a cell phone or new car—and how to decide when purchasing insurance makes sense. Throughout the presentation and activities, students asked important questions, picking apart the differences between deductibles and premiums across a variety of types of insurance.

Although many of the students are still a few years from renting an apartment, paying for college or buying a car, there is a clear benefit to learning the basics ahead of time. Sajit Khadka, an accountancy graduate student who helped run the workshops, said the lessons can’t come too early: “It’s important that students have hands-on experience with this. These topics are very new to some of them, but if you build these skills early on, it makes it easy to understand.”

Following the last workshop, students from Aurora Science & Tech will ride the light rail to DU for a campus tour, information session and lunch. This opportunity comes several days before many of them will take the PSAT, which determines eligibility for National Merit Scholarships.

When the students enter 10th grade next year, Lassar plans to provide a new series of workshops that build on the lessons offered this year—a plan that will allow them to tackle increasingly complex topics each year until they graduate. “The goal is that exposure this year will enable the students to ask strong questions next year. They might have conversations about it with their families and bring those questions back into the classroom,” she says.

Lassar hopes this program will highlight the value of financial education for secondary school students. “In most schools,” she said, “they are not getting any of this.”