A growing vision in the Carson College is to offer the best financial education program in the Pacific Northwest, with the potential for WSU to establish the top program in the country. The University has the advantage of offering the program within an AACSB-accredited college of business, a mark of distinction that attracts quality students.
The Carson College’s effort complements WSU’s goal to increase all students’ financial literacy. Through partnerships with BECU, the state’s largest credit union, and Brighton Jones, a wealth management services firm, WSU scholarship and financial wellness programs such as Invest in Success, Cougar Money Matters, and the Honors MESI Certificate are teaching students to be better financial stewards and live more meaningful lives.
Industry Partners Support Program Transformation
Over the last three years, leaders in the Carson College Department of Finance and Management Science have partnered with firms such as BECU and Brighton Jones, US Bank, and WSU alumni Tom (‘69 Comm.) and Linda (’71 Home Ec.) Nihoul to actively build a financial education strategy with three unique tracks that aim to achieve these milestones head on.
BECU supports the college’s overall strategy, with specific emphasis on track one, which delivers personal finance and financial literacy education to nonbusiness majors. Brighton Jones is supporting track two, which provides innovative, real-world learning experiences for students preparing for careers in financial services. Financial coaching experience is a learning goal emphasized in both tracks, which will be possible with resources from BECU and the Dean’s Catalyst Fund, a college resource dedicated to program prototypes. A third track, supported by the Dean’s Catalyst Fund and the Nihouls, focuses on helping finance students develop financial analysis skills for careers in financial advising through access to resources like the financial markets lab and Bloomberg terminals.
Across this layered strategy are new resources, classes, and faculty who will position the college as the nexus for financial education across WSU.
Preparing Finance Students to Meet Market Demand
Christiane Williamson is a new faculty member with unique expertise spanning all three tracks, specifically, financial services and planning instruction. In collaboration with Brighton Jones, Williamson designed and launched two new classes for track two this fall.
Introduction to Financial Planning and Well-Being, a junior-level class, focuses on a variety of financial topics that come with adult life, including budgeting, personal credit, investing, retirement and estate planning, and tax considerations. Students pursuing careers in financial services will not only learn to be better financial stewards themselves but will also practice delivering financial knowledge to others in a professional environment. Complementary with The Next Carson Coug curriculum’s emphasis on the importance of soft skills, undergraduates will learn the nuances of different communication styles pertaining to cultural, ethnic, and gender differences that will prepare them for working with future clients in the finance industry, as well as benefit their interpersonal relationships.
“Traditional academic finance departments do not focus on training for careers in financial services and planning, despite tremendous market demand for these graduates,” says David Whidbee, chair of the finance and management science department.
Courses Build on Skill Progession
The financial planning and well-being course sets juniors up to be successful in Financial Plan Development, Williamson’s new senior-level capstone course for students pursuing financial services careers. Students will apply the concepts they’ve learned in the financial well-being class toward developing strategies to create a comprehensive financial plan, she says.
Much of the material focuses on case studies and comprehensive financial planning strategies such as cash flow and net worth, income tax, insurance, retirement and long-term care, and estate planning, for example.
An important aspect of the course centers on coaching techniques.
“Students in this class will become financial service professionals, so it is important for them to be able to communicate with the lay person and develop an awareness of emotional behavior and a mindset that influences many individuals’ financial decisions,” says Williamson.
The overall curriculum is a layered approach that builds students’ financial planning knowledge and skills and allows them to practice financial planning concepts. The next step is offering students a peer-to-peer financial wellness program.
Planning for the Future
With support from BECU and the Dean’s Catalyst Fund, Williamson aims to develop a program in which finance students offer financial coaching to any WSU major who desires it, as well as to student living groups, student clubs/ organizations, and faculty. The program will also offer financial education resources including infographics, group presentations, and event participation, she says.
“The goal is to have our finance students practice their technique serving a diverse student population through financial coaching, but they will also have assignments with friends and family members,” Williamson says.
Topics particularly relevant for students about to launch into the workforce include identity theft, major purchase planning, managing debt, understanding credit and saving plans, and transitioning to work after college, says Williamson.
She eventually hopes to be able to offer dedicated spaces such as conference or breakout rooms where student coaches could work one-on-one with their peers, along with options for telecoaching and competitive coaching internships that could count toward certification levels.
“What I love about the Carson College is how a desire for change and growth, adhering to a standard of quality, and partnering with industry bring best practices to our students,” says Williamson.