Personal finance class pilots in Scheller

Photo by Jonathan Jeffrey

For the first time, students at Tech have the opportunity to learn about personal finance topics in the classroom.

Personal Finance 101, a one-credit special topics course hosted by the Scheller College of Business, aims to teach students smart ways to tackle the broad array of financial dilemmas they might face after getting out of Tech.

Fifty students from a variety of majors signed up for the Spring 2018 pilot course, taught by Jonathan Clarke, Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs and an Associate Professor of Finance in the College of Business.

“We have pretty broad representation,” Clarke said. “We certainly have some students from Scheller, but we certainly have some students from engineering, and the sciences, so we have pretty good makeup of all of
the colleges.”

Despite students’ diverging plans, the principles of personal finance they learn in the class apply to everyone.

“One person I’ve talked to wants to go to law school, a couple of people want to go to med school, some people are thinking about going to a graduate program in engineering,” Clarke said. “Some people already have jobs, and they are thinking about how to manage their finances when they take those jobs.”

Clarke says that the idea for the course grew out from a conversation with Steven Girardot, associate vice provost for Undergraduate Education who approached Clarke after reading a Technique consensus opinion that called out the lack of personal finance education at Tech.

“He approached me, and he showed me the article in the Technique,” Clarke said, “[and] he mentioned that the Board of Regents that they wanted some focus on Personal Finance, that students were graduating with student loans and sometimes with little idea on how to manage their personal finances. So I thought it was something that I could
help out with.”

In designing Personal Finance 101, Clarke drew from his experience managing the Wall Street on West Peachtree, a week-long summer camp that teaches personal finance to high school.

“Some of the stuff that we cover in the course is kind of like, you know, having somebody tell you to eat your vegetables,” Clarke said. “You know you should do it,  and the tough part is actually
doing it.”

Clarke says the most important concept he wants students to incorporate into their lives is to live below their means, and not be pressured into spending more money than they need to. Instead, the name of the game should be saving for the future.

“You’re going to have friends that are going to buy a new car. You are going to have friends that are going to take a fancy vacation,” Clarke said.

“It’s hard to live below your means early on, and yet if you can, and if you can while you are younger, it’s going to make things that much easier later in life.”

The Personal Finance 101 course will be again be available in the summer term, under the GT 4801 special topics. Students will additionally have the option to take the Personal Finance 101 online through the Summer Online Undergraduate Program (SOUP).

Although there are no plans set in stone, Clarke says that he is interested in expanding the course to a greater number of sections as well as potentially providing a similar option for graduates students or  faculty and staff to learn important personal finance concepts.