Financial planning major gives UGA students a distinct advantage
State legislatures across the country have begun mandating financial literacy courses for high school students.
Supporters of the legislation say financial hardships related to the pandemic and rising costs have heightened awareness of the need for students to learn basic budgeting and savings skills.
In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp signed SB 220 into law in May. The law requires high school students to take at least a half-credit course in financial literacy beginning in the 2024-25 school year.
Michael Thomas, a personal finance expert and lecturer in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, said the courses are a step in the right direction, but noted it’s not just high school kids who need to learn the basics.
“More needs to be done to educate kids and even adults about proper financial management, investing and all these other areas to help them better navigate some of the volatility that’s inherent in our daily lives,” said Thomas, who also serves as faculty lead for the Student Financial Planning Association within FACS. “It’s not just in the markets, but in grocery stores, rent, purchasing vehicles and more.”
Financial planning has been offered as a major at UGA since 2006, when the program was originally called family financial planning.
The major is now one of the fastest-growing programs in the college. Jobs in the financial planning industry are plentiful, with the U.S. Department of Labor reporting that jobs in the sector are expected to grow at a rate of 15 percent through 2031.
Thomas teaches three sections of the program’s intro to personal finance course, with an enrollment of more than 1,200 students.
“We’ve been doing this for a really long time,” Thomas said. “What I’m finding is that from when I started teaching it until now, students are more intentional about taking the course because they really believe it's going to help them thoughtfully think through their financial choices. There’s a level of eagerness to really try to improve their own financial well-being, and our program is different from others because we incorporate the emotional, psychological, and behavioral factors that influence our relationship with money."
Backed by research
FACS faculty member Lu Fan studies relationships between financial education mandates, financial behavior and perceived financial wellness of young adults.
Her research shows that young adults who had the mandatory financial education exposure in high school report higher financial knowledge, which benefits their savings and credit-using behaviors and improves their perceived financial wellness.
Milan Chokshi, an accounting major in the Terry College of Business and president of the Student Financial Planning Association, agrees with the notion that early exposure to basic money management training is critical.
While there has been a surge in the availability of financial literacy content online, he noted much of it is “wildly inaccurate,” with claims promoting quick paths to wealth that distort students’ views of money.
“All students know time is money, but most do not understand why,” he said. “Students could benefit from not just the education offered in UGA’s financial planning program, but also the grounding it would set for students’ expectations about wealth in the future.”
Hands-on training is key
The FACS financial planning program places an emphasis on experiential learning. One avenue for hands-on learning is through the ASPIRE Clinic, where students provide free or low-cost financial planning services to local residents under the supervision of trained faculty.
Students also can participate in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, where they provide free tax preparation services to their peers, local residents, faculty and staff also under the guidance of certified faculty.
“The greatest thing the financial planning program has taught me is how to be curious and how to think critically,” financial planning major Joshua Brumbach said. “While some topics may seem especially daunting, most personal finance skills can be boiled down to simple concepts like discipline, delayed gratification and basic strategic management. Having a strong foundation with the ability to explore on my own is one of the greatest gifts this program has given me.”