APU Business Careers & Learning Leading Forward Online Learning Podcast

Why Aren’t Students Learning Financial Literacy Skills?

Podcast featuring Dr. Marie Gould HarperDean, Wallace E. Boston School of Business and
Mack Moyer, Senior Partnership Manager, Lalilo

How is the U.S. doing in terms of educating people about financial literacy? Not great, reveals Mack Moyer who has spent the majority of his adult life traveling and living around the world. In this episode, APU’s Dr. Marie Gould Harper talks to Mack about his work to educate students about financial literacy to better prepare them for college and adulthood.

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Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Welcome to our podcast today, I’m your host, Marie Gould Harper. My guest today is Mack Moyer. We’re going to discuss financial literacy and some other work Mack has done over the years as it relates to educating the masses. Mack, welcome to our podcast, and thank you for joining me. Can you take a few minutes and tell us about yourself?

Mack Moyer: Sure. Thank you so much, Marie. I appreciate the invite to be here today and I’m excited to speak with you about these topics. I was born and raised on the Eastern shore of Maryland. I went to school at Salisbury University and I got a degree in marketing.

However, immediately after I finished university, I decided I wanted to pursue an opportunity to travel. And I found an opportunity to teach English in Korea as a 23-year-old with no experience. I jumped at that decision thinking it would just be a year of fun in another country and then come back and really start my career in business, which is what my intentions were.

But I found myself really enjoying being a teacher and I spent three years in Korea and then I moved to Turkey to continue being a teacher. And then finally I found myself in Saudi Arabia teaching at vocational college, so adult level.

I did enjoy teaching. After eight years, though, I did realize I needed to make a decision if this was going to be a lifelong career or if I ever wanted to get back into the business world. Through the network that I made in Saudi Arabia, I was able to have an opportunity to go and work for a large educational publishing company as a sales manager there. And so I did make that transition back into business, but in the educational field.

During that time, I was able to work with all the different universities across Saudi Arabia, and then at the same time was able to get my MBA. I got a global MBA from the University of Manchester and was back and forth to Dubai quite a bit during that time.

Upon finishing that, it was eight years in Saudi, I figured that my time in the Middle East had come to an end, and I decided to pursue a lifelong dream of mine and travel the world.

So I sold everything I had, I packed a bag and I had a one-way ticket to Rio de Janeiro. And what was meant to be six months of traveling around South America actually turned into just about a year-and-a-half of traveling the world over 30 different countries. Really getting to meet a lot of new people, expand my network and understand what it is I wanted to do when I entered the business world again.

I came back to the US and decided I wanted to stay in education, but move more into the technology side of things, and I found myself working with a small French start-up that teaches early foundational literacy, which is where I’m at today. Financial literacy is still a very big passion of mine and something that I work on in my volunteer projects as a side passion. So that’s a quick introduction. Well, maybe not so quick, but introduction to myself.

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Yes, it was. And it actually leads into my next question because when we were introduced, we talked about your passion for financial literacy. How did you get involved in this field? And what do you hope to accomplish even today?

Mack Moyer: Great question. To be honest, it wasn’t something that I actively even realized I wanted to be involved in. I think what really opened my eyes to the need for more financial literacy was my travels. Being able to travel around the world and see how different cultures teach and educate their people on financial literacy really opened my eyes to how America specifically, as a world power, we’re really falling below in that regard.

And I find, as I came back to the states after 14 years abroad, that is even worse than I originally thought. People aren’t talking about financial literacy. It’s not being taught in the schools and it’s kind of left to the parents, but yet the parents don’t even know the basics.

And so, for me, it was something that I realized is a big need as America leads the pack in so many other ways. It’s difficult to compare ourselves to, specifically, like Scandinavian countries who talk about financial literacy from a very early age and it’s incorporated into the curriculums in school.

And so I wanted to figure out how I could contribute to the solution, seeing that there was a problem. And so one of the things that I did is as soon as I got back, I started looking for volunteer opportunities on how I could use my experience as an educator and in the education field to help promote financial literacy topics. And I joined an organization called Junior Achievement, and they are across the country and they offer financial literacy courses from the third grade all the way to the 12th grade.

And so I participate in these short courses, delivering workshops for students. I’m currently giving one to 12th graders right now in a school in Brooklyn, and it’s really preparing them for college and understanding that they’re going to be a target for a lot of these credit card companies. And they’re going to have an opportunity to really have access to debt without the education behind how to handle that, and how to manage it, and how to have a personal budget. And so these are things that I’m currently doing to contribute toward the solution, I would say.

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Okay. You mentioned something that a lot of parents have brought up, the easy access to credit cards on a college campus. And what can they do with their kids before their kids go off to school to pretty much educate them? But some of your comments led me to a situation that I just ran into a couple of weeks ago, and that is because of the pandemic, even the schools, the high schools, have not been able to prepare their students for graduation.

I was having a conversation with a relative who mentioned how we had a couple of younger relatives who were struggling with getting ready for college because the guidance counselors were not able to fully prepare them.

So we have a generation of high school graduates coming out, may want to go to college, but did not have the proper coaching and guidance. Have you run into that? And have you had the opportunity to speak to some people or some families that really don’t know what to do for the next step in terms of getting to college?

Mack Moyer: That’s a great question, actually, Marie. And this is one that actually hits really close to home for me because I have seven nieces and nephews, and the oldest of them is just about to graduate high school rather and go to college. She is 18 and will be graduating in two weeks. So, when you asked about, have I been able to speak to any families, I’m actually part of that family now that is having these discussions. And I know firsthand that she has not had the same amount of time in the classroom this year and the same amount of preparation from a guidance counselor, I would say, in preparing for college.

She is interested in becoming a nurse, and so she has had an opportunity to do some of that practical experience, but that is, as far as I know, the extent of really what she’s been able to do in preparation. When I ask her about college, there’s not a lot of feedback or input, I would say, that she’s getting from her guidance counselor at the moment. So, I do think that there’s a red flag here. I try my best to help her individually, but as far as the larger cohort of 12th graders that will be entering into college this year, I do think that there’s some reason for concern.

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: And, what suggestions do you have to fill that gap? Because I wasn’t in school during a pandemic, but I remember the gap being with a guidance counselor as well at times. And I think there was a lot of information that I did receive, but there was also information that I missed out on. What are your thoughts on that in terms of financial literacy?

Mack Moyer: Well, a lot of it will fall onto the shoulders of the parents, and I don’t know that’s necessarily going to answer the problem because a lot of the parents don’t even keep a budget themselves. And so how can you explain how to budget your money and how to manage debt, which is what these 12th graders are going to be entering into, taking out college loans, having an opportunity to get a credit card. I would say it is partly on the individuals themselves going in to understand these things. There’s definitely information out there with a slew of different opportunities and courses through Udemy or Coursera. They have free courses on financial literacy.

But as you well know, they’re going to be inundated with newfound freedom, new friends, and new opportunities, and so I don’t think we can count on that happening as well. But I do think that the teachers, as they send them off and into world, and the parents if they do that as well, to make these resources available to them, let them at least know that there are resources available for the students to learn. And then I would say it’s going to fall a lot more on the professors at university as well to mitigate some of those gaps, which is something new for them.

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Okay. Because as you were talking about that, I was thinking about the different types of students. At the beginning of your conversation I was thinking about the average high school traditional student, but then I also thought about first-generation students who, as you mentioned about the family not understanding how to budget, but they’re going off to school. No one in their family has ever gone off to school. So, where do they start and the resources that they probably need? And I’m sure some colleges have offices that could assist them, but I wanted to segue into what’s going on in the economy.

And that is, we’re coming out of the pandemic, at least I hope we are. What are your thoughts about the new norm and the place for financial literacy in the new norm? Do you think everybody has been home long enough to think about the value of money?

Mack Moyer: It’s a good question. I do think that there’s a bigger risk now actually for people to go out and spend frivolously because they feel it’s been justified by not doing anything over the past year. And so there’s going to be a million different ways than there even was before to spend your money.

And I do think that we need to be careful about that because even though we were home for the last year and we may not have been spending that normal budget on going out to eat, I do know that people have been doing a lot more home shopping and the wine boxes have been ordered specifically even to my house a bit more than they normally were. So, in that regard, I don’t know that the focus over the pandemic was necessarily about the value of money. And so, I do think that we have reason for concern on how we’re going to come out of this.

There’s a lot of money being spent at a government level to help get the economy kick-started again and help those business owners. But at the same time, you look at what are people spending their checks on that they’ve gotten? Are they actually doing something useful with it? Or are they just justifying it by saying, “I haven’t gone out and done anything in a while. I’m going to splurge and treat myself,” kind of thing.

In general, I think we think very shortsighted and we need to think more long-term on how to make this money work for us in the long run. And how to turn this money into passive income and in supplemental income for ourselves as we hopefully don’t have to worry about another pandemic for a very long time, but it shows us that we weren’t ready for something like this. A lot of us weren’t, at least.

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: And I’m thinking about something that I heard on the news today and I’m getting ready to venture away from financial literacy, just a tad bit. And that’s the concern. I heard a person in the store make this comment, and then I heard it on the news last night.

A concern by many people that the stimulus package has created a lazy generation that people do not see the benefit of going back to work, and there are some businesses that need workers, but will not get those workers because it doesn’t make financial sense for people to go back to work.

Now, I also believe some people are still reluctant because of safety issues, and just some other economic issues such as childcare now. Was that the right thing to do? And how do we get back to some businesses who are finding it hard to find workers to get employees now?

Mack Moyer: I think safety is always a concern, but I would be surprised if anybody had enough money from the stimulus package to still support themselves and be able to justify not going back to work. There was very limited payouts. If I remember correctly, it was $3,000 in total, maybe, if you got all the stimulus money. I can’t remember, but that’s over a year. So I don’t know that the stimulus package is any kind of justification for not going back to work.

However, I would say a lot of people have definitely become accustomed to a more relaxed lifestyle and not the go, go, go that Americans are very used to. This question reminds me of my time when I worked in Saudi Arabia and I worked at a vocational college. And so I was working with gentlemen anywhere from 18 to about 23 on average was their age groups. And Saudi Arabia at that time had a government program that gave the students, it was about $2,000 a month if they didn’t have a job.

And what the students were finding was that they couldn’t find a job for $2,000 a month with no experience. And so it was this vicious cycle of the students saying, “Oh, I can’t get a job. I’m going to keep collecting the money and not actively looking for jobs to get that experience.” That program ran for two years. So, for two years they could collect $2,000 a month if they showed that they didn’t have a job.

And so these students were actively delaying their opportunity to get experience in the market and really get their feet on the ground early because they knew they could make more now, rather than later having that experience to move up in their career.

And so, from an outsider’s view, I saw how, although I understood what Saudi was trying to do, I saw that it was actively hurting them. It’s an Arab culture with a lot of young people coming into the workforce rather, and they were actively trying to have more Saudis take the jobs rather than all the ex-pats that were in there because it was really driven by ex-pats in this professional world there.

And so they were trying to have something called Saudization, and they were incentivizing companies to hire Saudis, but Saudis didn’t want the job and they didn’t actively apply. So there is definitely a balance between helping and supplementing income in a time of need like this, but also teaching them and encouraging them to continue to work and work hard and earn your money.

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: So it’s nice that people are talking about it, even if it’s not always the correct way of what is going on, but it’s at the forefront of some people’s mind. I kind of like that.

Mack Moyer: And I think that’s key. I mean, the first step to any kind of solution to a problem like this is just talking about it and understanding and getting the various perspectives on it. We’re never all going to agree on the same thing, but talking about it and getting it to the forefront, as you said, is really step one.

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Right. Now, I do have one final question. Is there anything else you would like to share with us on any topic? Your traveling, financial literacy, what’s occurring in the world? What you’re going to do next?

Mack Moyer: Yeah. Well, when we first spoke, I think it was about three months ago. I was actually in Costa Rica and I had the great opportunity through my job becoming fully remote to follow a new dream of mine. My old dream was to travel the world on backpack, but I wasn’t working at the time. And this time I wanted to continue traveling while working.

I had just kicked off, again, what I thought was I was going to try for a month and it turned into three, of the digital nomad life, is what they call it. And as long as you have access to the internet, you can work from anywhere. In my specific case, I needed to be somewhere in the similar time zone to the US because I do a lot of video calls and calling with other customers in the US, so anywhere in Central or South America was fine for me.

And so I took that opportunity to do work remotely from Costa Rica, as well as Mexico for the last three months. And I would say that there was some real challenges there. It was a great experience and a challenge of my discipline, I would say, as well, because I was used to traveling and having my days free to explore, but then knowing that I had to still get online and still do all my work during the day, and even though I was in this new country with a lot of things to see.

This is going to be the new norm for a lot of people, and I would say it’s a great opportunity. One thing that is even, I love financial literacy and I try to encourage conversations about it whenever possible, but even more than that is traveling and getting out of your comfort zone. Going out, whether that be traveling or whether it be doing an activity that you would never do like bungee jumping or skydiving, for example.

I’m always encouraging people to move beyond their comfort zone and explore and challenge themselves to become better people, always growing, and those are definitely things that tie into the way that I’ve chosen to live my life.

I’m very fortunate to have had a job that allowed me to travel. I was able to save money, believe it or not, doing it. I had somebody rent out my place in New York and I was able to travel much cheaper there. So I’m back in New York now, but I am thinking forward about how I can leave again next winter because I hate the cold, and possibly make this a more permanent solution for me.

Dr. Marie Gould Harper: Okay, great. Thank you for sharing information on all the many different topics. And I want to thank you for joining me today and sharing your expertise. We have been speaking with Mack Moyer. This is Marie Gould Harper thanking you for listening to our podcast today. Have an amazing day.

Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Dean of the School of Business at American Public University. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in instructional systems from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate in business from Capella University. She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist, and human resources/organizational development professional with more than 30 years of experience.

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