LaGuardia Community College (LaGuardia), a component of the City University of New York (CUNY), serves one of the most diverse student populations in the country, urban students who come from 133 different countries, speak 62 different languages, and represent multiple racial, ethnic, religious, and gender identities (LaGuardia, n.d.). The LaGuardia Library is dedicated to educating these students and supporting research conducted by the College’s students, faculty, staff, and community. A major tool in its efforts to help educate critical thinkers and socially responsible citizens is information literacy (IL) which is the ability to locate, evaluate, and use information in the context of the cultural, political, and economic factors that shape it. The Library cultivates IL by serving the curricular, co-curricular, research, and career needs of the College’s students, faculty, and staff. It creates a supportive environment for study, inquiry, and lifelong learning; preserves materials related to College history; and builds and provides access to dynamic physical and digital collections, including Open Educational Resources (OER). OER is a term given to “learning, teaching and research materials in any format and medium that reside in the public domain or are under copyright that have been released under an open license, that permit no-cost access, re-use, re-purpose, adaptation and redistribution by others” (UNESCO, n.d.).
Developed by LaGuardia Library with funding from the FINRA Foundation Library Grant, FinLit for Life is an OER that contains much-needed resources. It will a) mine and make more practically accessible the dauntingly vast literature on personal finance, viewing it through a critical financial literacy lens; and b) target the needs of community college students, specifically those marginalized by race, culture, or disability. Critical financial literacy empowers citizens to “make an informed choice on whether they should modify and/or create an alternative economic system that will give rise to better, more socially just individual choices” (Arthur, 2012, p. 108). To target the needs of the population of students at a community college and ensure that it reflects the students’ lived experiences, FinLit for Life was created with the collaboration of eight LaGuardia students in addition to two staff members and three faculty members. Thus, the projected OER will focus on populations of students who are often not heard and will provide resources from a wide range of voices.
The Need for FinLit for Life
Government organizations, colleges, not-for-profit organizations, and existing financial literacy OER supply a great deal of financial and investor educational resources, over a dozen OER resources, but they exhibit a variety of limitations. For example, the OER Commons has some dozen OER that focus on financial literacy skills for college students, but these resources do not target those marginalized in society by race or disability. Miami Dade College provides a research guide, Accounting Library Resources: Open Educational Resources (OER), which directs students to financial help from a range of books, ebooks, and websites, but it too targets a general audience.
Some web resources do foster financial literacy specifically for high school and community college students, among them Bergen Community College; Somerset Community College; and CashCourse, a guide to making informed financial choices, provided by the Higher Education Financial Wellness Alliance. But these resources do not speak to students making $25,000 a year or less, to individuals of color or Hispanic, or to single parents.
There is also a lack of resources targeting women. The Community College of Baltimore County has a webpage of valuable information on how to create and live on a budget and smart ways to use credit. The Financial Literacy Starter Kit, edited by Richard Gottlieb (2020) provides high school and undergraduate students with easy-to-understand guidance on how to manage their finances. However, neither speak to women whose financial literacy is limited because of their cultural background.
Why Critical Financial Literacy?
In simple terms, financial literacy is a person’s capacity to manage money. However, more complex definitions “fall into five categories: (a) knowledge of financial concepts, (b) ability to communicate about financial concepts, (c) ability to manage personal finances, (d) skill level in making acceptable financial decisions and (e) ability to plan effectively for future financial needs” (Clark, 2016, p. 1). FinLit for Life considers all five concepts, using or adapting existing OER, creating new material to fill information gaps, and foregrounding the critical financial literacy perspective. Through the critical financial literacy lens, FinLit for Life addresses historic inequities, bridging gaps in financial knowledge among students whose perspectives are not often heard. For example, FinLit for Life considers the financial and/or investor education of students making $25,000 or less a year, students of color or Hispanic students, or those with a physical or psychological disability or limited in their knowledge about finances because of cultural background.
FinLit for Life ensures diversity, equity, and inclusion by selecting sources and pedagogical practices based on a critical financial literacy lens. This critical point of view considers social, historical, and ideological forces and structures and associated historic inequities as they affect personal financial literacy. A recent study reported a widening gap in financial capability that is leaving younger Americans, those with lower incomes, and African Americans behind. It also argued that “financial education matters” and is correlated with fewer problem behaviors such as overdrafts (Lin et al., 2019, p. 2). FinLit for Life was created with the help of LaGuardia students to ensure that it reflects their lived experiences. The annotated lists of resources in FinLit for Life will make users aware of such materials as StudyMoney.us, the website developed by the Pennsylvania Assistive Technology Foundation to help people with disabilities and their advocates learn about managing money. Each listing will feature a meaty annotation differentiating it as much as possible from other resources in that category. FinLit for Life:
- considers the financial and/or investor education of students making $25,000 or less a year, of people of color or Hispanic, and of women whose financial literacy is limited because of their cultural background;
- focuses on investing in the stock market, the risks involved, and the risk tolerance students are willing to take, avoiding the exclusivity that exists around the stock market since it is often considered only for the already wealthy;
- looks for resources whose authorship reflects who LaGuardia students are, such as possibly undocumented or not regarded as being able to conduct their financial affairs successfully;
- helps individuals avoid uncontrolled debt in areas such credit cards; teaches students how to identify predatory loans and social security fraud; and helps them understand how interest works;
- aids in the preparation of financial aid applications, overcoming the fear of providing personal information because of predatory threats;
- provides tips for people starting an entrepreneurship and becoming an agent of change in their community by controlling their own destiny; and
- provides interactive maps of local community banks and other financial institutions with contact information.
The Goals of FinLit for Life
The primary goal of those who worked on developing FinLit for Life was to create a personal finance OER that has budgeting and investment resources selected based on a critical financial literacy lens. The team of faculty, staff, and students engaged in FinLit for Life reviewed the online materials considered for inclusion in the textbook and the bios of the authors of those materials to ensure that the latter represented a diverse group of experts assembling financial literacy content suitable for our diverse student population, 45% of whom identify as Hispanic, 20% as Asian, and 16% as Black. The team also created a checklist to gain input, from about five faculty members outside of the Library on campus and about five others knowledgeable in personal finance (college staff, administrators, and local community members), into the value of the materials in the OER. The eight students on the project team reviewed the materials, using a Likert-scale questionnaire asking what they thought of the text and illustrations, whether the materials were easy to use, and whether they grasped the FinLit concepts, plus a five-question, open-ended reflection by which students could provide additional feedback.
Faculty, instructors, and staff at LaGuardia, or anywhere else, can use FinLit for Life to teach students about investment and budgeting, in workshops or classes. The FinLit for Life team will assess student understanding of selected personal finance topics by asking five faculty members to administer quizzes. They will also track the number of classes using FinLit for Life and the number of students reached. Lastly, the team developed before-and-after instruction surveys to discover changes in attitudes and actions around personal finance reported by students as a result of using these educational materials. All surveys utilized will include demographic indicators in order to gauge effectiveness across the targeted demographic groups, such as First Year Seminar (FYS) student, Adult and Continuing Education (ACE) student, gender, ethnicity/race, income level, etc. (Questions about income level, race, etc. will be voluntary, since the survey cannot require people to answer.)
Any original content created or resources suggested in the annotations follows the principles of Universal Design (UD), making the content inclusive and accessible, especially for those with physical or psychological disabilities. According to UD principles, products and environments should accommodate “a wide range of individual preferences and abilities” and be “useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities” (Burgstahler, 2015, p. 15). In addition, Universal Design for Learning (UDL) was developed by the organization CAST (formerly Center for Applied Special Technology) as a framework for curriculum that is accessible for all, including students with and without disabilities. It considers the needs of students at the margins of the educational system. A central premise is that the curriculum, rather than the learner, needs to change because there is no “average” or “typical” learner and all learners have varied abilities, strengths, experiences, and preferences. Two fundamentals are (1) to address learner variability, and (2) to reduce barriers in curriculum and instruction, with the goal to develop expert learners (Rao, 2021).
Topics covered in FinLit for Life include tracking expenses, budgeting, and investing. The material include a glossary of financial terms, annotated lists of resources on specific topics such as student loans, and interactive maps of local banks and other financial institutions, with contact information. The OER is freely available and accessible online to all students via CUNY Academic Works, a service of the CUNY Libraries dedicated to collecting and providing access to research, scholarship, and creative and pedagogical work by CUNY faculty and staff. As a sustainable project, the OER will be housed indefinitely on the platforms of CUNY Academic Works and Pressbooks and updated when needed.
The Audience for FinLit for Life
Since FinLit for Life will be freely available on the web, it can be used by anyone, anywhere, giving it a large target population. Web traffic to the resource can be calculated as well as content downloads from Academic Works. For example, in calendar year 2021, Academic Works had 19,832 downloads of OER material across the OER collection of 110 items. Created with the help of student voices, FinLit for Life will provide resources at the grass roots level in their communities. Resources selected for FinLit for Life represent the needs of community college students and their families.
The target audience for FinLit for Life at LaGuardia is students. FinLit for Life will be used in LaGuardia’s First Year Seminar (FYS) courses. Each academic program at LaGuardia has its own version of the FYS program: Business & Technology, Computer Science, Criminal Justice, Engineering Science, Health Sciences, Liberal Arts: Math and Science, Liberal Arts: Social Science and Humanities, Natural Sciences, and Psychology. All students majoring in any discipline at LaGuardia must take the FYS course in their area of focus. In academic year 2019-2020, the number of students required to take an FYS course was 13,431 (LaGuardia, 2021, p. 10). FinLit for Life will also be used in Adult and Continuing Education (ACE). LaGuardia’s ACE Division is the largest continuing education division among the CUNY campuses and is one of the most comprehensive in the country. In academic year 2019-2020, the number of students enrolled in an ACE program was 9,674 (LaGuardia, 2021, p. 51-53). LaGuardia students may benefit in finding information specific to the communities in which they live.
FinLit for Life will be presented at campus workshops. The MoneyBoss workshop series, held monthly except over the summer, targets current LaGuardia students. Attendance has ranged from about 40 attendees to over 160. In academic year 2020-2021, the workshop series had nine presentations with a total of over 900 attendees. In addition to the MoneyBoss workshops, the Library hosts presentations year-round, including professional development for faculty and staff, citation clinics to help students with their papers, librarian meet-and- greet, workshops on how to use the Library from home and other topics such as how to identify fake news. In academic year 2020-2021, there were over 20 workshops with a total of over 600 attendees.
Arthur, C. (2012). Financial literacy education: Neoliberalism, the consumer and the citizen. Sense Publishers.
Burgstahler, S. E. (Ed.). (2015). Universal design in higher education: From principles to practice (2nd ed.). Harvard Education Press.
Clark, K. (2016). Financial literacy annotated bibliography. National Technical Assistance Center on Transition. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED605901.pdf
Gottlieb, R. (Ed.). (2020). Financial Literacy Starter Kit (2nd ed.). Grey House Publishing.
LaGuardia Community College. (n.d.). LaGuardia at a Glance. Retrieved September 11, 2023, from https://laguardia.catalog.cuny.edu/about-laguardia/laguardia-at-a-glance
LaGuardia Community College, Office of Institutional Research & Assessment. (2021, August). 2021 Institutional profile. https://www.laguardia.edu/uploadedfiles/main_site/content/ir/docs/institutional-profile-2021.pdf
Lin, Judy T., Bumcrot, C., Ulicny, T., Mottola, G., Walsh, G., Ganem, R., Kieffer, C., & Lusardi, A. (2019, June). The state of U.S. financial capability: The 2018 National Financial Capability Study. FINRA Investor Education Foundation. https://finrafoundation.org/sites/finrafoundation/files/NFCS-2018-Report-Natl-Findings.pdf
Rao, K. (2021). Inclusive instructional design: Applying UDL to online learning. The Journal of Applied Instructional Design, 10(1). https://doi.org/10.51869/101/kr
UNESCO. (n.d.). Open education resources. Retrieved September 11, 2023, from https://www.unesco.org/en/open-educational-resources