Despite the Main Street vs. Wall Street conflicts post-recession, there is still a great desire among young people — particularly among privileged families — to be part of the finance industry. In three private schools, one for just girls, a non-profit organization is bringing Wall Street education to young women. Invest in Girls takes a new approach to a financial education for high school sophomores.
To its credit, the program sounds like it has found a great way to create a curriculum that engages young minds. The lessons will likely stick with many of the students, who will later choose to pursue a career in finance. A combination of having an instructor who is deeply involved with the industry, field trips to experience the finance industry in a hands-on environment, and metaphors designed to help the students relate to complex financial concepts make this an effective method of teaching and inspiring. If women are underrepresented in finance, courses like these can help to change the balance.
But the balance isn’t shifting much. The finance industry, particularly at the biggest firms, is overwhelmingly represented by young people with privileged backgrounds. A private high school, Ivy League college education, and wealthy parents with connections in the financial industry already lead to young graduates entering that industry. Invest in Girls admits as much when asked about targeting only private schools for this program. The founder of Invest in Girls replied to a New York Times reporter, “This is really about girls who are emerging as leaders and how to help those girls have the finance and investing knowledge they will need.” Implicit in her remarks is that girls attending private schools are more likely to be leaders than those who attend public schools. I’m not sure I agree with that statement.
I have to wonder whether Invest in Girls is not yet comfortable with the idea that their program is designed only for private school students. While the Invest in Girls website explains features of the curriculum, I could not find any mention of the fact that the organization reaches only a subset of the population already likely to be involved with the financial industry after college. If not for the New York Times article, I would have assumed from the Invest in Girls website that any young woman could receive the benefits of the well-considered curriculum. Perhaps the organization is attempting to avoid the questions about introducing a privileged career to a set of students who probably don’t need as much as help breaking into the industry as the general public.
I like that Invest in Girls is not just another boring financial literacy curriculum, but they certainly know their audience. While the curriculum starts with the basic knowledge that underpins a life with which money is a necessity — saving, budgeting and personal money management — the crux of the set of courses is exposure to the professional money management industry on Wall Street. Financial literacy programs are generally geared towards families who do not have the same financial advantages as these students, but every young person, regardless of economic status, needs this foundation. But most high school money management classes don’t help. Invest in Girls sets itself apart from the other types of education, so perhaps there is a chance of the program inspiring young students not just to love Wall Street, but to learn to manage their own money intelligently.
Boys in these private schools who want to take these classes cannot. I mentioned the course uses metaphors to help reach students, relating complex financial concepts to things with which girls may (stereortypically) might already be familiar: organizing wardrobes, for example.
Not every private school student comes from a privileged background. As the author of the article notes, some girls in the class required financial aid to attend the school, some attended the school from foreign countries (the point of mentioning this, I believe, would be to indicate there were exchange students who often do not pay full tuition), and some families paid the full tuition. Regardless of the mix, on average, the students attending these three private schools, are less culturally diverse and come from a wealthier background than typical public schools. Does society really need help pointing young adults from wealthy families in the direction of careers in which they’re already over-represented?
Update: After publishing this articles, Invest In Girls contacted me via Twitter to inform me that they plan to expand to public schools in 2013.
Updated July 20, 2012 and originally published July 2, 2012.