Director of Financial Literacy at Champlain College Interviewed on National Public Radio

The Center for Financial Literacy (CFL) at Champlain College was highlighted in an NPR distributed series called "To The Best Of Our Knowledge." John Pelletier, director of the CFL, spoke with interviewer Bob Barrett predominantly about Champlain's Life Experience & Action Dimension (LEAD) and the Vermont Teachers Financial Literacy Summer Institute, co-sponsored by Merchant's Bank. The series airs on VPR at 10 p.m. on Sundays and Mondays.

The summary of the interview states, "We hear a lot about the amount of debt many students take on while attending college," said Barrett. "But how many of those schools are making sure those students know how to deal with that debt... or even understand it once they graduate?" Champlain College is one of few institutes of higher education in the nation that mandates financial literacy seminars and courses."

Pelletier defines financial literacy as, "The ability to give yourself a lifetime of financial well-being. The ability to have the right knowledge and behaviors to make the right decisions so you can hopefully make choices that give you a comfortable lifestyle, or as comfortable as you can in your income level."

Barrett then asked Pelletier if students are coming in more financially savvy. Pelletier explained that they were not savvier, but more receptive. "Students saw what happened to their parents during the recession," he explained. "Parents had to tap into their home equity to pay for their children's college bills." In addition, the median net worth during the recession (2007-10) dropped approximately 40 percent. With this experience, students are much more attuned to the fact that they could get into financial troubles like their parents potentially did, and are much more receptive to the conversation.

Champlain's mandatory seminars and courses are requirements to enroll in classes through Champlain's Life Experience & Action Dimension (LEAD). LEAD began at Champlain in 2008 to help students gain knowledge and put it to work in three areas: engaged citizenship, lifelong career management and financial sophistication. LEAD was developed after Champlain President David F. Finney realized that just taking core courses and major courses, students were missing something that he thought every student should have the 21st century life skills that they need to be successful upon graduation. The program is still evolving, requiring four 2- to 3-hour seminars throughout students' time as an undergraduate at Champlain.

After the recession hit, the financial sophistication aspect was added to LEAD in the 2010-11 academic year. Michael Fife, coordinator of LEAD Financial Sophistication, has crafted a group seminar for first-year students called the "Game of Life" that helps students determine if they will be able to live within their means after graduation. They are given an average income, determined by their chosen major, and asked to go acquire necessary purchases, including rent, insurance, entertainment, transportation, and pay off student loans. On the other end of the spectrum, seniors join Pelletier in workshops such as "What's in it for me? Understanding my Employee Benefits," where they learn about investment after graduation.

"The programs have to be geared towards where they are," said Pelletier of what makes students receptive to personal finance information. "Get them where they are and where they live, and topics that are relevant to them today."

Today's economy is increasingly a global economy, so students learn not to put all their eggs in one basket, further not just one country's basket, when it comes to investing. The biggest difference from the 1950s to today is the retirement system. There are no automatic pension plans in place — they are replaced with defined benefit plans. Once students graduate, they will have to save and figure out the best way to invest it and become their own portfolio manager. It's something that parents have trouble adapting to, and therefore teaching their children how to manage, Pelletier says.

Since parents have a tough time passing on these essential life skills to their children, the schools are then responsible for these lessons. Champlain is one of few colleges in the nation to mandate personal finance courses and seminars, and even so, only about 40 percent of young people in America pursue and receive college degrees. Therefore, it comes down to building a national K-12 program to teach financial literacy. Today, only four states require a one-semester personal finance course in order to graduate high school, and half of the other states don't require anything.

Champlain's CFL and Merchants Bank sponsor one of the three teacher-training programs in the country focusing on teaching personal finance. Last summer, 32 K-12 teachers from across Vermont gathered for a five-day professional development program at Champlain College to gain competencies in teaching personal finance topics, such as credit, budgeting and investing. "They learned financial literacy to use in their own life, as well as how to bring it into the classroom," said Pelletier.

To date, 60 Vermont teachers have attended one of Champlain's CFL Summer Institutes. After the completion of the program, teachers who strongly agreed with the statement that they would feel comfortable teaching personal finance in the classroom increased from just ten percent, prior to the program, to 93 percent after completion.

To listen to the full 30-minute segment, visit WAMC Albany's website at http://wamc.org/post/best-our-knowledge-1155

To learn more about the Peabody Award winning series, "To The Best Of Our Knowledge," visit http://ttbook.org/


Founded in 1878, Champlain College is a small, not-for-profit, private college in Burlington, Vermont, with additional campuses in Montreal, Quebec and Dublin, Ireland. Champlain offers a traditional undergraduate experience from its beautiful campus overlooking Lake Champlain and over 60 online undergraduate and graduate degree programs and certificates. Champlain's distinctive career-driven approach to higher education embodies the notion that true learning occurs when information and experience come together to create knowledge. Champlain College is included in the Princeton Review's The Best 379 Colleges: 2015 Edition. Champlain was named a "Top-Up-and-Coming School" by U.S. News & World Report's America's Best Colleges and is ranked in the top tier of 2014 Regional Colleges in the North. For more information, visit www.champlain.edu.