A personal finance class at East Carolina University has inspired students to save a combined $100,000 each semester for the past five years.
The ECU College of Business instructors Len Rhodes and Mark Weitzel call themselves “The Money Professors.” They challenge 500 students in two 250-student sessions of the class to collectively save $100,000 during the semester.
“For most it is as simple as realizing how much they spend on eating out and cutting back, or making smarter purchasing decisions. For others, it is about setting a financial goal and then making changes in their lives to achieve that goal,” said Weitzel, director of the ECU Financial Wellness Institute.
The professors created the challenge because they wanted to know if what they were teaching was making an immediate difference in the student’s financial lives. “The challenge is simple,” said Weitzel. “If you learn something in class that you put into practice in your daily life and that saves you money, we want to hear about it.”
Weitzel created the personal finance class in 1999 after being inspired by a walk across ECU’s campus, where he observed banks and credit card companies catering to students during registration. “Students were signing up for credit cards, having no real idea of how to properly use them, quickly abusing them and finding themselves in real trouble,” said Rhodes, director of Technology, Information and Operations.
The class, which has no prerequisites and is worth three elective credit hours, quickly expanded and now reaches full capacity every semester. “That’s 1,000 new students a year,” said Rhodes. “It’s the most popular class on campus.”
As the class evolved, the professors became dissatisfied with the available textbooks on personal finance, so they decided to write their own.
“We couldn’t find anything that completely fit what we were teaching. For example, we couldn’t find a single textbook that talked about the biggest financial decision you make in your life: who you marry,” said Weitzel. “While it isn’t terribly romantic to look at it that way, one out of two marriages ends in divorce, and the leading cause is fights about money. We decided that we need to help educate these kids about understanding money and relationships.”
The overall goal of the class is to provide students the information and the tools they need to better manage their personal finances while they are at ECU and after they graduate.
“The single most important thing that we hope students will walk away with from the course is that you cannot separate your personal life from your financial life. They are inextricably intertwined. Good financial health promotes and enforces good health in other dimensions of your life,” said Weitzel. “The second message is that personal finance is personal. There is no one-size-fits-all advice out there that works for everyone.”
All royalties from the sale of their textbook, “Personal Finance: Easy. Relevant. Fun.,” are given back to ECU students in the form of scholarships.
Rhodes and Weitzel have co-written many other finance books including “The Graduate’s Guide to Life and Money” and “How to Keep Your Kid From Moving Back Home After College.” Together, they run a company called “The Money Professors,” through which they offer expert knowledge, resources and consulting to help other universities develop content that students can relate to.