David Leach, a lecturer in business and financial services at the University of Maine at Augusta, at his home office Friday. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

AUGUSTA — The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many changes to everyday life, including the need for young people to learn financial literacy as they deal increasingly with financial concerns and burdens, according to local educators.

In response, UMA is introducing a three-credit, online course on financial literacy for high school students.

The course, spearheaded by Rachael Magill, director of the Office of Early College at UMA, and David Leach, a UMA lecturer in business and financial services, is to be offered this summer. Many topics will be addressed, including understanding credit, preparing for college, student loans and borrowing.

At the end of the course, students will work together to manage expenses based on certain salaries, including balancing needs and wants.

“The timing was right,” Magill said. “It can have a huge impact beyond right now.”

Magill said high school is often the first time many students must make financial decisions. Leach and Magill said they hope the course will help students make better decisions about finances, spending and debt.

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the number of Maine high school students taking college courses at UMA. Jonathan Henry, vice president of enrollment management and marketing at UMA, said 483 Early College students were enrolled this spring versus 412 a year ago, a 17.2% increase.

“Students and their school counselors were drawn to Early College courses in larger numbers because students were mostly remote to begin with, and it was less complicated than working through hybridized regular courses in the high school,” Henry said. “If you are going to be remote, you might as well take an online college course.”

Jessica Schneckloth, vice president of service and operations at Trademark Federal Credit Union in Augusta, agreed with Leach and Magill on the need to teach financial literacy at a young age.

“I do think we are lacking in introduction,” she said. “Teaching languages young is smart. Why not money?”

Schneckloth said financial literacy is not usually taught at public schools. Instead, parents or guardians typically teach children about money and finances.

She said children and young adults should have their own experiences with money, where they make their own decisions and learn from their successes or mistakes.

“There are strong opinions about credit and misinformation and bias,” Schneckloth said. “Some people will say, ‘You don’t need a credit card,’ and, to some extent, you don’t need one. But there is a balance between knowing yourself.”

Before the pandemic, employees from area credit unions would visit schools to help teach students about money and how to save.  Schneckloth said the younger a child learns, the better. In fact, she said she did a read-along on Facebook Live last year for elementary school students to teach them about “wants” and “needs.”

Schneckloth said the pandemic has forced many people and families to change how they spend and save their money. She said Trademark Federal Credit Union’s call line is often inundated with people seeking information on stimulus checks or how to fill out unemployment forms.

Schneckloth said the pandemic has spotlighted the importance of knowing financial recourses and how to prepare for unexpected situations.

Leach said he will also incorporate recent or ongoing events into the class, including the potential for President Joe Biden to cancel some student loan debt or issues related to unemployment insurance, on which many more Mainers are now relying.

“There are a lot of moving parts with student loans,” Leach said. “Students do generally lead with their heart, but the whole course will be grounded in reality, so they are situationally aware of all possibilities.”

Leach said the online class should provide high school students scheduling flexibility, allowing them to participate in cocurricular activities or hold jobs.

Students who have not met the 12-credit yearly cap through the Aspirations program can take this course tuition free, according to organizers. Those who have already used the 12 credits awarded for the year can opt to pay a discounted rate of $138.25 per credit, according to Magill.

The course has 75 slots and will be offered from May 10 through July 12. Students can sign up through the UMA website — www.uma.edu/admission/early-college.

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