School of Business adds personal finance course

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In the midst of the recent financial crisis, the GW School of Business has added a new course to its curriculum aimed at increasing financial literacy among college students.

The course, entitled “Personal Finance,” will be offered to juniors and seniors from any major and will cover topics such as taxes, investment and insurance, as well as provide information about credit card interest rates and student loans.

The effort to add the course to the curriculum was led by the GW Women in Business student organization, GWWIB is comprised of 70 members that represent more than 40 majors across the University.

Tricia Reville, co-chair of GWWIB, explained that the process to add the course began nearly two years ago, when she first began talking about the possibility of the course with other GWWIB members.

The need for the course increased as the financial crisis exposed the lack of knowledge among the population about topics such as loans, mortgages and credit card interest, Reville said.

Last spring, GWWIB hosted two presentations on personal finance given by Professor Neil Cohen, who will be teaching the course. Reville said students responded well to the workshops, giving the organization hope for the course.

“I think students realized how much of this stuff they didn’t know and how much they would need to know,” she said.

Cohen, a professor in the finance department, started an advisory practice in personal finance in the 1980s. He said the class will focus on giving students practical information about how to avoid common mistakes and plan for the future in a hands-on course filled with examples.

“The course will cover everything a person needs to know to manage their personal finances. The key today is financial literacy,” he said.

Although some of the information may seem mundane to students, Cohen stressed the complex nature of some of the topics and said that in the world of finance, things might not always be as they seem.

Cohen said students who take the course will be able to use the lessons learned in order to make smart financial decisions in the future.

“The course will give students a way of thinking about things in order to answer financial questions and make decisions when they come up,” he said.

Reville said that in light of the financial crisis, the course’s focus on practical application will be particularly pertinent.

“A class like this really helps people with their actual lives. You could be a finance major but not know how to calculate credit card interest, something that affects college students in particular,” she said.

Lawrence Singleton, associate dean for undergraduate programs for the School of Business, said in an e-mail he hopes many undergraduates will enroll in the course.

“The School of Business is interested in improving the financial literacy of all GW students, and the need for this is even more important in the current economic environment,” Singleton said.

Reville said GWWIB plan to remain involved and engaged by recognizing an outstanding student in the course at the end of the semester. Possible awards could be a year subscription to the Wall Street Journal or books of personal finance topics, she said.

Reville said she hopes students will learn something new by taking the course and realize that many of the topics covered apply to their lives even as college students.

“These kinds of things may seem far off, like saving for retirement. Students ask, ‘Well, does this apply to me now?’ ” Reville said. “But so many things like college and car loans and credit scores do affect us now even as 20-year-olds.”

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