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Mission: enhance K-12 financial literacy training

Hattiesburg — Students can graduate from high school in Mississippi without mastering simple personal finance skills, such as understanding compound interest or that it isn’t a good idea to just pay the minimum on a monthly credit card bill.

But now a new center has opened at the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) that will give K-12 educators in the southern part of the state assistance in learning how to teach Mississippi students how to be more financially literate.

The Center for Economic Education (CEE), which will be housed in the College of Business at Southern Miss, plans to conduct economic education professional development programs for K-12 teachers and will act in a consulting capacity with public and private school systems in South Mississippi. New economics curriculum requirements will go into affect in the state beginning in 2008.

The new educational offerings will be a combination of economic theory or practice.

“Nothing is so practical as a good theory,” said Dr. Harold Doty, dean of the College of Business. “It is going to be combination of both theory and practice. For example, we need students to be able to understand the theory of the time value of money. The time value of money says if we look at inflation, one dollar today is worth more than that same dollar a year from now. We need for students to understand interest compounding so they understand why it is critical to invest in retirement at an early age instead of waiting until the end of a productive career.”

Doty said the intention is for teachers to learn the best ways to help students master practical financial knowledge.
This is the second such center in the state established with the assistance of the non-profit Mississippi Council on Economic Education (MCEE), which has been funded with the assistance of major banks and other corporations in Mississippi. The first center is located at Mississippi State University in Starkville, and a center is planned to open next year at Jackson State University to serve teachers in the central part of the state.

The USM center will make a real difference because it doubles resources for teachers in the state, said Dr. Pamela P. Smith, president of the MCEE.

“Our organization works with both of the state’s university-based centers on a strategic plan to deliver our programs,” Smith said. “Its goal is to see that Mississippi’s students are able to achieve economic literacy before they graduate from high school.”

There are significant benefits to the business community from having customers and employees who are more financially astute. Smith said the business community will have far more productive employees, and society benefits from having people who are more informed so they can be effective, smarter voters, and less vulnerable to financial pitfalls such as predatory lending practices and getting overextended on credit card bills.

The MCEE has worked with 1,700 teachers in the past two years, and Smith said those teachers are very enthusiastic about the training and curriculum they have received.

“Teachers are positive they can make a significant difference in the lives of young people as they go into the work world,” Smith said. “They will be smarter consumers and far better employees. We are anxious to see this expanded as much as we can. One way it is being expanded with cooperation of the Department of Education is that economics is now going to be a required class in 2008. This is a good time for schools to get their teachers prepared.

“It is absolutely imperative if we are to have a productive workforce that our students who finish school in Mississippi have basic financial literacy that they can carry to the workplace wherever they might be employed,” said Dr. Ted Alexander, chairman of the MCEE and chief executive officer of the Lower Pearl River Valley Foundation of Picayune.
“Having launched our second center at the University of Southern Mississippi, our goal is to launch our third center at Jackson State University,” he added. “We hope that will come about within the next year. That would give us teacher training centers at Mississippi State, Southern Miss and Jackson State University providing close proximity for our teachers and students in North, Central and South Mississippi.”

For more information about the CEE, visit www.mscee.org.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.


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