Oberlin College offers a Personal Finance Course for Students in Liberal Arts

“I try to encourage students that even if they have [student] debt, they can still go out and save the world and meet their debt obligations,” said Beth Tallman, coordinator of the Financial Literacy Program at Oberlin College. Tallman spoke at the Financial Literacy and College Persistence Conference at Menlo College on Jan. 18.

After graduating, many Oberlin students sign up for programs like the Peace Corps, VISTA, or Teach for America, where they may not earn a lot of money, but they may have come out of college with a lot of debt. “I encourage them, particularly if they have not committed to a particular job to look for jobs and programs where there canfind some help with paying off their student loans or where—after 10 years—if they are paying the minimum amount, they can get some sort of debtforgiveness,“ said Tallman. “I’m looking for an understanding from students so that they have something to go back to when they are hit with the decisions they have to make in the future.”

Repaying student loans is just one of the subjects Tallman covers in her “Fundamentals of Finance,” a personal finance course that is part of Oberlin’s Entrepreneurship Department.  

In the class, she discusses accounting skills, interest compounding, discount tools to analyze investments, Excel, selecting a bank, safe and smart use of credit/debit cards, credit scores, identity theft, investments, diversification of stocks, bonds, mutual funds, insurance, retirement saving, tax strategies.

Tallman found that if she “flipped” the class, assigning readings and an online quiz on materials ahead of class, she was able to customize the class for each individual group of students. She is still searching for the most effective way to teach tax calculations, which pose a difficult concept for students to understand.

She also covers financial skills information with students outside her classroom in a program titled “Life after Oberlin” where life skills information is offered to seniors, and in a program called, “The Financially Savvy Musician” for Conservatory Students and other artists who are planning to be independent contractors in the arts.

At Oberlin, an emphasis on community service is important, with 27% of their Federal work-study money allocated to community outreach work. In light of this, Tallman is training four students over winter break to be peer advisors in the community. These peer advisors are trained by the Ohio Benefits Bank so that they can be tax counselors for low-income families in the community, and some of her students will run an investment club at the local middle school.  Each one of the advisors is also focusing on specific topics from the course to inform their fellow college students in on-campus forums.

Why is this course is an Entrepreneurship class? “It’s about the business of your life,” explained her student, Tiffany, to a group of her classmates. Well said, Tiffany; well taught, Beth Tallman.