By Margaret King
High school students often turn to UC San Diego Extension for summer classes to help them prepare for college or acquire job skills. But this summer, UCSD Extension's Education and Community Outreach (ECO) department has a new kind of offering to equip students to succeed: a free class on financial literacy.
ECO has teamed with the FoolProof Foundation to offer "Critical Thinking Through Financial Literacy," a short online class aimed at middle and high school students. The self-paced class, available July 26-30, shows students how to approach decisions about money with healthy skepticism.
The topic is especially vital in today's perilous digital environment, where young people are bombarded with misleading marketing pitches from social media influencers, video games and other sources. "There are more choices out there now," said Drew Guthrie, FoolProof's chief operating officer (pictured below). "There are more diverse and underhanded ways of getting information to children."
FoolProof's answer is to give students the tools to cut through the hype. "We're trying to bring this to a younger generation and say, 'OK, you're faced with these decisions through every part of your life,'" Guthrie explained. "How do you evaluate what's being said to you? How do you find out if this is the best product for you?"
For UCSD Extension, the class represents "a unique opportunity to expand the portfolio of our offerings," said Assistant Dean Morgan Appel. "It provides a vital community service, and we are very proud to be able to offer it in partnership with FoolProof."
Help from a trusted source
FoolProof was founded in 2003 with support from famed news anchor Walter Cronkite, who was known as "the most trusted man in America." Cronkite shared the concern of FoolProof's founders about the lack of unbiased resources to teach young people about managing money.
FoolProof's founders understood that most financial literacy materials are created by the same corporations that profit when consumers make bad decisions. The nonprofit set out to provide independent resources, including videos that teach young people how to read the fine print in advertisements and avoid making impulse purchases and piling up debt.
The ultimate goal is to promote equity, said Tyler Rice, FoolProof's director of development (pictured below). "Our mission is to empower students with free and independent financial information to make the right decisions for life," he said. "That's really the core of everything we do at FoolProof. It's focused on providing learners of all ages the critical-thinking skills that underlie sound financial decision-making to break cycles of financial inequality."
FoolProof, which has offices in Florida, also provides resources for parents and educators. During the 2019-2020 school year, more than 8,000 schools and 13,000 teachers across the country used the FoolProof curriculum.
The summer Extension class consists of three modules, with each requiring about 20 minutes to complete, Rice said. "It brings young adults through a progression from identifying the importance of conducting independent research to thinking about the decisions they want to make and finding good sources to base decisions off of," he said.
How parents can help
In addition to providing the free class, FoolProof and ECO have partnered on two videos for the Education Channel on UCTV.
The resources are offered at a time when Americans' grasp of financial matters is slipping. In a 2018 survey, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority found only 34 percent of respondents had a basic level of financial literacy, down from 42 percent in 2009. Young people were even less financially literate; only 17 percent could answer four of six simple finance questions.
Appel said FoolProof's courses are effective because they present information in an engaging way and give young people tools that they can use right away. "It's not just, 'Make good decisions, and you'll see a return in 20 years,'" he said. "It's something that is immediate and impactful but enduring."
Ultimately FoolProof wants to help young people understand themselves better, Guthrie said. "As Walter Cronkite famously said, you have to get both sides of the story. People get one side from the marketing and the advertising and those who are trying to influence them. The other side of the story is for young people to know what products and services are out there and to know themselves and who they want to be in this world."