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Institute teaches students about financial health

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Financial decisions—including generating income, paying off student loans, and saving for retirement—certainly have the power to overwhelm. Many people are not equipped to manage personal finances without assistance. Through programs like the Financial Wellness Institute (FWI) at East Carolina University, participants will be better trained in financial literacy, which will help them make smarter decisions in the future.

The FWI, part of the College of Business at ECU, was created about three and a half years ago. According to Mark Weitzel, director of the FWI and teaching instructor in the ECU College of Business (COB), the institute came about as an offshoot of Personal Finance-FINA 1904 class.

Weitzel said he first had the idea for a personal finance class about 10 years ago when he was walking around ECU’s campus and saw credit card company representatives talking to students.

“These companies were getting students to sign up for their offers by luring them with the promise of free stuff like pizza and T-shirts, but the students did not really understand what they were signing up for,” said Weitzel. “I realized that things hadn’t changed since I had been in college. I thought it was a shame for those companies to have access to these students who didn’t have the skills to properly manage their finances yet.”

FINA 1904’s popularity has grown exponentially over the years, according to Weitzel. Today, he, Len Rhodes, director of institutional research at ECU, and Bill Pratt, assistant director of the FWI and teaching instructor in the COB, team-teach the class. Pratt said the class is beneficial to students because it teaches them the fundamentals of personal finance while putting the “personal” back in finance.

“It is critical for students to take this course or one like it because there is a game being played in the world of money and most people don’t realize it. Anytime you are playing a game without knowing it you are going to lose,” said Pratt. “Even once you realize you are playing a game, you will still lose if you don’t know the rules. We teach the students the rules of the game, we show them how to get better at playing the game, and we explain how the other team is going to try and beat them.”

Another main objective of the FWI is to educate ECU faculty and staff about their financial health. To accomplish this, the institute sponsors a 10-week seminar program for faculty and staff. Weitzel said that the seminar is very similar to the FINA 1904 class, but since most of the participants are older than the students, they have more of a context to discuss financial literacy because many of them have already experienced these financial situations.

The institute is not only beneficial to those who participate in its programs, but to the entire ECU campus and the public as well.

“There is not one aspect of finances that is not applicable in a person’s life—from your career choice, to who you marry, to all of the decisions made on a daily basis,” said Weitzel. “All of these decisions have financial ties, but very few campuses teach people how to make successful financial decisions. There are many people out there who are waiting to separate you from your hard-earned money in legal ways by preying on your financial ignorance. This class helps make everyone aware of that.”

Pratt added that if he could tell students one thing about personal financial management, it would be to realize that debt takes away choices.

“We all love having choices in our lives, so please keep your debt to a minimum to keep your options open in life,” he said. “Don’t fall for the trap that everybody has debt and car payments their whole life. That is only true of broke people, and we want our students to break out of that mold.”

By Meagan Williford, University Marketing

6-30-11