Credit unions in schools in one form or another are an encouragingly frequent occurrence in Michigan. The Great Lakes State leads the nation with 35 credit unions operating some 200 branches inside elementary, high schools and colleges. These inschool branches’ sole purpose is not to harvest a crop of profitable future clientele. On the contrary, education and credit union professionals say these facilities teach many valuable lessons — including how young people can avoid becoming adult bankrupts.
E&A CU (BW) in Port Huron and CP FCU (JA) in Jackson are two credit unions addressing the same focus from different angles.
E&A CU works with youth from elementary through high school. The credit union hosts a variety of programs, including an education session that involves students on a subjective level with finances, budgeting and various products and services.
“Students receive an academic grade for the co-op as well as a wage and great job experience,” explains Marketing Director Andrea Serra. “We also have a youth program because it’s vital to teach children the importance of their credit history when they have the time to make the right choices.
“We go into the schools and hold classroom seminars. We have activities, exercises and take home lessons to show the importance of saving, budgeting and how to make the most of their finances.”
The cornerstone of the credit union’s financial education program is its satellite branch located inside the St. Clair County Regional Education Service Agency campus in Marysville, near Port Huron. In between class sessions, students can be seen depositing paychecks or making withdrawals while inside the school. The satellite branch is a
dedicated facility that opened in 1996 and gives member students and staff the opportunity to access their finances three days a week from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m.
What makes the satellite a unique tool for teaching is it’s an opportunity for students to become part-time and eventually full-time employees of the credit union. The satellite is staffed by both a fulltime and student teller. Students interested in becoming tellers must receive faculty approval, fill out an application and undergo an interview process which mirrors the one used for a traditional applicant.
“I really wanted to learn about accounting and my teacher suggested I apply, so I did,” said Student Teller Mai Her. “Working at the satellite branch was difficult at first but I got the hang of it in about a week. Most of the transactions I do are small withdrawals under $20 and depositing payroll checks from after-school jobs.”
Currently, E&A employs five former student tellers full-time and has employed 10 since the program’s inception. “Working at this credit union or another is something I could see myself doing,” said Her. “I’ve learned a lot, not just about how to work here, but about money and savings. One thing I wish everyone could learn is that debit cards can be a little dangerous if not handled properly. I learned that early on while working here.”
The in-school concept has been launched for a younger age group in Jackson County. CP FCU began operating in-school branches in 1991 and leads the nation with 17 elementary school branches. The credit union uses laptop computers and portable stands and has established “Credit Union Days” at different schools.
Students are allowed to open their own accounts complete with monthly statements for parents and incentive programs for frequent depositors.“Students are eager to remind their parents about Credit Union Day,” said Education Specialist Kelly Hatler. “Mom and dad usually give them a couple of dollars and kids are really excited to deposit that money, or money earned from doing chores or for birthdays.”
“The Credit Union Day concept is effective because it introduces students to the idea of building a habit to save,” said Financial Education Specialist Susan Young. “We build positive habits by repeating the action over and over. By having Credit Union Day each week, the students are not only learning the important life skill of making sound money decisions, but also the good habit of saving. It’s exposing them to many of the money management skills they may otherwise not have a chance to learn.” During Paragon Charter Academy’s Credit Union Day, the credit union is staffed by fellow students. Students staff every role that can be found at a traditional credit union. The marketing team
creates posters and commercial skits encouraging classmates to participate in credit union day.
“It’s really hard to learn to do but it’s fun,” said 11-year-old Teller Josh Snyder. “It took about two weeks for me to learn how to be a teller before I got good at it. You have to be prepared at the beginning of the workday or it becomes a total mess.”
CP FCU also operates a 5th and 6th grade check book program in addition to portage branches at 14 area high schools. “It’s a great program for the kids, it’s a lot of fun and the kids get a lot out of it,” said Financial Education Representative Karen Vohlken.“The children are usually very excited to work and it’s neat to see them learning a lot of practical skills in a hands-on way — which I guess is the best way.”
In order to build off the success of CP FCU, E&A CU and numerous other Michigan credit unions, the MCUL Family Involvement Council has developed a Student Branch Manual that is being used around the country as a guideline for establishing and operating in-school branches. The manual contains a number of local success stories, step-by-step instructions and copy ready forms and is available at http://www.mcul.org/Family_Involvement_Council_654.html.
The days of teachers devoting all of their time to the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic may be numbered. Schools, with the assistance of credit unions and other outside resources, are looking to teach students practical life skills as well. The job seeker of the future will not only be armed with an education, but the money management skills necessary to put his or her money to good use.
According to the latest data available from CUNA, the following Michigan credit unions operate student branches:
- Advantage One FCU (DR)
- Alpena Alcona Area CU (BO)
- Berrien Teachers CU (SW)
- Capitol Area School Emp. CU (LN)
- Clarkston Brandon Community CU (OC)
- Clinton County FCU (LN)
- Communications Family CU (MM)
- Community Family CU (MM)
- Community Choice CU (MW)
- Community Schools CU (OC)
- CP FCU (JA)
- Dearborn FCU (MW)
- E&A CU (BW)
- Eaton County Educational CU (LN)
- ELGA CU (FL)
- First Catholic FCU (DR)
- Grand Rapids Teachers CU (GR)
- Ishpeming Community FCU (UP)
- Metro CU (OC)
- LSI CU (GR)
- Metro North FCU (OC)
- LOC FCU (OC)
- Macomb Schools and Government CU (ME)
- MidWest Financial CU (HV)
- Oakland Catholic CU (OC)
- Preferred FCU (GR)
- Public Service CU (MW)
- Rivers Edge Community CU (DR)
- Royal Oakland Community CU (OC)
- Soo Co-op CU (UP)
- Southeast Oakland Community CU (OC)
- Team One CU (MM)
- Telcom CU (MW)
- TLC Community CU (HV)
- United Financial CU (MM)