Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Financial Education for Young People – Being Reached by Relatable Voices

Nyandusi Omurwa grew up in Kenya as the sixth of 17 children. His parents couldn’t afford to send their children to high school, much less college, but from an early age, Nyandusi had an incredible sense of determination—and a gift for networking. Like so many young people who face great barriers to success, he created his own opportunities.

Nyandusi found access to books and education through his friends and earned his high school degree, all while working odd jobs to get by. He met his wife, an American, at one of these odd jobs, and in 2009 the couple moved to the U.S., where Nyandusi worked the night shift to pay for community college. Today, Nyandusi is my colleague at PwC—as well as a constant source of inspiration.

PwC has long recognized the need for more access to financial education in schools and has worked to be a leader in filling that void. Four years ago, the firm made a $190 million commitment to educate 2.5 million students about financial literacy through a program called Earn Your Future. Since that time, the firm has reached 3.5 million students and educators; our partners and staff in the New York metro area alone have committed more than 192,000 hours teaching students or volunteering to impact youth or youth education. The firm is also leading the way to help recent college graduates reduce their student debt through a Student Loan Paydown program, and initiatives to help students better understand and manage their loans right from the start are in development—and Nyandusi is taking advantage of this program.

Nyandusi’s story is incredible because of the many hurdles he faced, due solely to his demographic and income status. And though the challenges facing American students—especially those growing up in underserved communities—likely differ from Nyandusi’s, there are many barriers:

• A recent PwC study of K-12 educators found fewer than 12 percent of teachers nationwide address personal finance in their lessons, and fewer than 65 percent of teachers feel it is at least somewhat unlikely their students are receiving any financial education at home;

• Only 24 percent of millennials demonstrate basic financial knowledge; and

• Americans have accumulated more than $1.3 trillion in student debt.

This week, PwC took another step toward raising awareness among students about the importance of financial literacy at Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx with rapper and social activist Dee-1 to lead the lesson. Young people know Dee-1 because he went viral with the song “Sallie Mae Back” about paying off his student loans. Ninety-nine percent of students at Cardinal Hayes graduate on time and 98 percent go on to post-secondary studies, so Dee-1 spoke with them about selecting a college based on their career goals and earning potential, and emphasized that they needed to persevere through any challenges they may face. He warned them that low-income Black and Hispanic students have higher loan balances, and drop out with debt at higher rates than white students:“the worst thing you can do is go to college and drop out before you get that degree,” he says. The reception was overwhelming. The students asked questions, engaged with him on social media, danced when he sang, and swarmed him afterwards to talk with him more about his life.

Dee-1 will continue to travel around the country with PwC, teaching more lessons like this because the company believes in engaging and energizing students in new ways. Nyandusi’s story is an inspiration and reminder that there is still much to do to make the business world a more accessible and desirable place for a diverse workforce. PwC hopes reaching students in their schools with messages of financial literacy will continue that work.

—Brendan Dougher, New York Metro Managing Partner, PwC 

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