Campus News

Dollars and sense

Swarn Chatterjee

Family and Consumer Sciences faculty team-teach First-Year Odyssey seminar on personal finance

Achieving a positive net worth, considering how financial decisions made today can impact your life and understanding the importance of saving aren’t usually on the minds of UGA freshmen, but for the 60 students participating in FYOS 1101, “Plan Well, Live Well: Develop a Financial Plan for Life,” these personal finance-related topics are the focus of their weekly one-hour meetings.

The First-Year Odyssey course was the brainchild of Brenda Cude, professor of housing and consumer economics in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, who asked three of her colleagues about teaching four sections of the course.

“My thought was that by supporting each other in its creation and design, we could deliver a course that would be better than what we might do as individuals,” she said.

Cude, along with Lance Palmer, associate professor of housing and consumer economics, and Joseph Goetz and Swarn Chatterjee, assistant professors of housing and consumer economics, each teach 15-18 students. The topics for the classes are the same across the sections, but how the instructors present the content varies.

In a recent class, for example, Chatterjee had the students divide into groups of two to analyze a scenario concerning a couple’s finances. The groups later reported their thoughts on how the couple might get a better handle on their finances. Cude, on the other hand, presented basic financial planning concepts and had the students as a group relate those to the scenario.

“Our goal is to take 18 year-olds whose parents are still making most of their money decisions and help them become more independent college students who have financial responsibilities and are able to transition into becoming responsible decision-makers,” Cude said.

In deciding what to teach, the faculty members have brought their individual expertise—Palmer’s is tax and budgeting; Chatterjee’s is wealth accumulation and behavioral economics; Cude’s is credit scoring and consumer issues; and Goetz’s is money socialization and goal setting—to the syllabus, but the faculty also made thoughtful decisions in regards to when they teach.

“We all teach our sections on Mondays,” said Cude. “Dr. Chatterjee and Dr. Palmer both teach at 1:20 p.m. while Dr. Goetz and I teach at 3:35 p.m. This has made it easier to have guest speakers because they know they’ll be speaking twice to groups of 30 or more students.”

This fall those speakers have included individuals from the Georgia Governor’s Office of Consumer Protection and the Better Business Bureau.

While Cude has a great deal of experience with the university’s newest students, having taught freshman seminars for the past several years, her colleagues have focused teaching more advanced students. Both Palmer and Chatterjee said the experience has been enlightening.

“They don’t look so exhausted,” Palmer said. “There really is a freshness about their level of energy. All of the things we’re teaching are new to them so it’s an opportunity to share some interesting things from our field.”

Chatterjee agreed.

“This class is structured very differently than my usual courses,” he said. “There is a lot of participation and discussion and, because they’re freshmen, they bring very different perspectives to the topics we discuss.”

“When you’re teaching a course on tax law, the focus is on detail,” Palmer said. “In this course, we can spend the whole hour discussing big pictures ideas, such as whether the tax structure should be changed.”

An informal poll of Chatterjee’s class showed most of the students to be pre-business majors with a sprinkling of biology and pre-journalism majors. Although one food science major is considering taking nutrition science courses in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, none of the students are currently family financial planning majors.

“I haven’t even asked them their majors because they’re bound to change,” Palmer said, an assessment echoed by his colleagues. However, they all plan to provide more in-depth information about the FFP major and the career opportunities it offers. More important, the faculty members hope to provide the students with an understanding of finances that can help them, their families and friends.

“By teaching four sections of the same course there’s also some possibility of beginning to create a critical mass of students who begin to know about our major and about the courses we teach that are open to all students,” Cude said. “Nearly every semester the Red& Black has a letter to the editor from a student saying there should be a course where they can learn basic personal finance. By the time these students finish this course, I hope they’ll all be able to tell their friends about HACE 3200, ‘Personal Finance.’ ”

The final project for  the course is a presentation on the concept each student believes every first-year student should know about.

“They can present the concept any way they want,” Cude said. “They can do a PowerPoint presentation, a display, a YouTube video. Ideally, it will be something we will be able to use in the future.”

Meanwhile, Cude said she’s gratified when the students grasp an important concept, such as how to check their credit report.

“It’s great when they say, ‘I’m so glad we did that because I’m going to tell my mom,’ ” she said.