In a Nutshell: While education is widely considered key to someone’s future success, financial literacy is an often overlooked subject in public education. Based in Oregon, SELCO Community Credit Union is working to bring financial education programs into schools and to the community at large. SELCO offers community seminars, webinars, and other online resources on a range of financial topics, as well as one-on-one financial counseling for its members. Founded more than 85 years ago by a group of teachers, SELCO Community Credit Union remains true to its educational roots by partnering with nonprofits to improve financial literacy in the communities it serves, while providing a full range of banking and financial service products.
Is a quality education really the key to success later in life?
A few prominent college dropouts, such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg, may disagree. Keep in mind, though, that these successful entrepreneurs are outliers; for each of them, there are thousands or even millions who struggle because they lack a strong academic background.
These days, nearly everyone agrees that a good education can, at the very least, improve your chances of financial success. What often goes overlooked, however, is the importance of financial literacy and having a solid understanding of basic money skills. According to a FINRA Foundation National Capability Study, nearly two-thirds of Americans can’t pass a basic test of financial literacy.
In Oregon, one community credit union is working to improve the financial literacy of its members and of the community as a whole. SELCO Community Credit Union was founded more than 85 years ago by a group of teachers in Eugene, Oregon, and this principle of prioritizing education has been a constant ever since.
In its effort to highlight the importance of financial literacy, SELCO partners with groups like Zogo, which is an app created to provide financial education through bite-sized modules. By helping to develop lessons and curricula around responsible money management, SELCO is hoping to encourage financial literacy from an early age.
We chatted with Jacob Berns, Communications Manager at SELCO Community Credit Union, about the financial institution’s efforts in this area. Olivia Sorensen joined the SELCO team in 2019 as Community Development Specialist and focuses on financial education efforts.
“Our guiding charitable mission is to remove barriers to education,” Berns said. “Sometimes this means going into the classroom and teaching a financial education course, and other times, this means addressing basic needs. So our sponsorship programs and corporate giving really reflect that focus.”
In addition to its efforts to build financial lesson plans, SELCO has developed an educational game it calls “Get a Life!” (inspired by the board game, The Game of Life). The objective is to empower young people with key financial education skills, encourage responsible future financial decision-making, and to begin a dialogue about money that can be continued at home.
SELCO expanded “Get a Life!” to include “The Price of Rice” (inspired by the Price is Right) and Adulting 101 seminars with help from several community partners like Ophelia’s Place and the TRIO Student Support Services at OSU-Cascades.
“It’s not that we think kids are going to come away from the game with a complete understanding of finances,” Berns said. “But it’s a way to get the sometimes difficult conversation about money started between kids and their parents.”
Community Seminars and One-on-One Counseling Play Major Roles in SELCO’s Financial Literacy Efforts
As a full-service financial institution, SELCO offers its members a range of personal and business services, from checking and savings accounts to loans, investment services, and insurance options. But SELCO also goes beyond these traditional services to offer financial literacy programs in the community.
“We partner with a range of nonprofits, so we’ll visit more non-traditional classroom settings, as well as schools,” Berns said.
In addition, SELCO Credit Union members are able to access one-on-one counseling with a trained member services representative that can help with specific issues. This may mean making suggestions about which products or services are best-suited for them or whether a certain type of account makes sense.
“If they’re trying to reach a particular financial goal, we’ve got a number of savings tools that can help get them there,” he said.
One of the things SELCO offers free of charge — to members and non-members — is access to a comprehensive Financial Education Center, which includes video, articles, calculators, upcoming webinars/seminars, and a glossary of commonly used financial terms
“One of our goals is to provide a diverse set of materials to fit all styles of learning,” Berns said. “If you go to our blog, you’ll see we have animated videos, articles, infographics, lists, tips and tricks, QuickTips videos, and, really, just a variety of ways for readers to become empowered to make sound financial decisions.”
Giving back to the community is something credit unions have always been known for, and SELCO is showing just how much of an impact this can have on a community.
Classroom Curriculum Puts Young People on a Better Financial Path
With SELCO’s origins as a teachers’ credit union (the name is derived from School Employees of Lane County), it stands to reason that this institution puts a high value on education.
Its partnership with Zogo includes an arm of the program called Zogo Classroom, which gives teachers the curriculum needed to discuss personal finance with their students. The SELCO team told us they are really excited to see how this works in the fall.
SELCO has also developed some unique and innovative programs it offers to both students and educators. One such innovation is the SPARK! Creative Learning Grant program, which offers teachers a $1,000 grant to help them develop creative ways of teaching students.
“These grants are designed to encourage educators to be really creative about how they’re teaching,” Berns said. “We don’t want a lack of funding to prevent engaging learning opportunities for students.”
Another example of the credit union’s commitment to education is the SELCO Scholarship Program that awards scholarships to exceptional high school seniors who are continuing on to a two-year or four-year college or university. Twenty of these scholarships are available each year (19 SELCO Scholarships for $2,500 each and The Richard Metzler Opportunity Scholarship at $5,000), and they make a big difference in covering the high costs associated with attending college.
Paid Volunteering Opportunities on the Horizon for SELCO Employees
Beyond its educational focus, SELCO frequently reaches out to provide funding to organizations that have a direct impact on residents’ lives. It provides funding through SMART Reading for book giveaways, and after-school programs like Boys & Girls Clubs throughout multiple areas of the state.
This type of direct funding has an immediate impact on the community and helps to better the lives of those who receive it.
Other worthwhile organizations benefit from the volunteer time SELCO employees contribute, and this type of giving back is encouraged by the credit union’s management.
The Employee Volunteer Program has recently been reinstated after being put in hiatus during the pandemic. It’s an excellent way for SELCO to support the organizations/missions that are important to their colleagues, as well as support the community.