Should Economic Education Be Left to the Public Schools? the Youth Enterprise Academies for Urban Youth

Article excerpt

Economic education is less frequently offered in large urban high schools than it is in the suburbs or medium-sized cities (Walstad, 2001). This is not surprising. We suspect that concerns about such issues as low academic achievement and low school completion rates would often overshadow the importance of economic and financial education. Nonetheless, there is growing evidence of problems resulting from poor economic and financial education including:

* A large net worth gap between whites($94,900 in 1998 as measured in 1998 dollars) and nonwhites (516,400 in 1998 as measured in 1998 dollars) (Federal Reserve System, 2000).

* A large number (10 million) of unbanked households in the United States most of which (57 percent) are minority households (Toussaint-Comeau & Rhine, 2000).

* A 51 percent increase in bankruptcy rates among the young from 1991 to 1999 (United States General Accounting Office, 2001).

What explains these problems? We suspect that lack of economic and financial education is among the most important variables. We suggest that we can no longer wait for public schools to act without competition in this area. Instead, colleges and universities along with community partners should consider offering effective economic and financial education programs for urban youth. This paper describes the Youth Enterprise Academy developed at the University of WisconsinMilwaukee by a partnership of a private foundation, state government, a private-not-for-profit organization, and the public schools.

Youth Enterprise Academy summer program

In Milwaukee beginning in 1998, several partners including the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions, the Helen Bader Foundation, the Wisconsin Council on Economic Education, the Milwaukee Public Schools, and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) Center for Economic Education developed a model for improving economic and financial education. An important part of this program is the Youth Enterprise Academy and the Youth Enterprise Investment Clubs.

The Youth Enterprise Academy is a ten-day summer program for high school students. It is conducted on the university campus. The goal of the course is to increase the economic and financial education and participation of city youth in the economy. Three areas are emphasized. First, students study personal finance. Students participate in several activities that stress saving, investing, credit, and the importance of getting a good education (investing, in their own human capital). Students act as "Stock Analysts." They research various companies for their "clients" and eventually recommend whether stock of a company should be bought, held, or sold. The students use materials developed by the National Council on Economic Education as well as materials published by the National Association of Investors Corporation.

Second, the Youth Enterprise Academy emphasizes basic economics. Students participate in several activities to learn such basics as scarcity, choice, opportunity cost, incentives, profit, laws of supply and demand, market price, price ceilings, price floors and so forth. The students participate in two simulations-an auction market and private property rights simulations. They hear presentations from successful minority business people. A highlight of this part of the program is an all-day field trip to visit the Chicago Board of Trade of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

Finally, Youth Enterprise Academy focuses on developing leadership skills. We assumed that becoming a leader in today's economy requires being successful academically in high school and college. Students in the Youth Enterprise Academy examine career options, decide what courses to take now to get ready for college, and discuss how to finance a college education. Using the Internet, students visit the web pages of numerous colleges and examine various academic majors, tuition costs, and so forth. …