October 1999 // Volume 37 // Number 5 // Feature Articles // 5FEA3

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Collaborative Problem Solving: Financial Education for Youth

Financial literacy is a highly promoted objective - one that takes many partners to address effectively. Colorado State University Cooperative Extension family economics specialists initiated a statewide collaborative effort to develop new ways to link financial education for youth to educators. An Economic Education Expo was planned which attracted more than 100 educators and 40 inner city, ethnically diverse young people. Adults attended workshops ranging from economic standards to personal finance. The young people shared a wide range of entrepreneurship experiences and expertise. A collaboration wall exercise after lunch gave participants an opportunity to write mini proposals for small grants. At the end of the conference, more than 80 percent of the participants said the Expo would help them do a better job. At a follow-up evaluation meeting, the collaborating partners said they often found themselves in competing situations, and it took Cooperative Extension to bring them all together to work toward a common goal.

Judy McKenna
Family Economics Specialist
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, Colorado
Internet Address: mckenna@cahs.colostate.edu

Jan Carroll
4-H and Youth Specialist
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, Colorado
Internet Address: carrollj@lamar.colostate.edu

Teen years can be a training ground for responsible money management, but O'Neill (1992) describes these years as a time of "premature affluence" where spending is primarily on non-essentials and limited planning takes place. Alhabeeb (1996, p. 131) concurs and says that "there is virtually little evidence that adolescents practice or even appreciate saving." Teens, as a group, spend significant sums of money, $108 billion in 1997 (Klein, 1998). National and state trends indicate a need for financial education for youth.

The National Education Goals Panel of governors, federal administrators, members of Congress, and state legislators established eight national education goals. Goal 3 states that "by the year 2000, all students will leave grades 4, 8, and 12 having demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter including ...economics...and every school in America will ensure that all students learn to use their minds well, so they may be prepared for responsible citizenship, further learning, and productive employment in our Nation's modern economy." (Bayh, 1995, p. 2).

In Colorado, House Bill 93-1313 (1993) mandates teachers to address economic standards. The purpose is to provide students with "an understanding of basic economic concepts in order to become productive members of the workforce, responsible citizens, effective participants in an international economy, and competent decision-makers throughout their lives." These concepts, including public policy and personal financial skills, may be taught by a variety of educational experiences. There will not be a designated economic education curriculum that all teachers will use.

Nationally, a Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy, composed of public and private organizations (with Extension System leadership provided by Jane Schuchardt, national Cooperative Extension program leader in family economics), joined forces to meet the goal that by 1997 "every secondary student in the United States will have skills to be financially competent in a core set of personal financial competencies upon graduation from high school" (Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy, 1997).

Extension educators, including Colorado State University specialists and the Denver County 4-H/Youth development agent, agreed that financial education of youth was critical. They were aware that a number of organizations working together can successfully increase the financial competence of young people. Thus, an opportunity emerged - the creation of a partnership with leading organizations in the state that shared a common goal to enhance the financial skills of youth.

The Process of Collaboration

Cooperative Extension educators decided to initiate collaboration focused specifically on financial education for youth. The following definition of collaborative problem solving developed by the United Way of Franklin County guided the process: "Collaboration is defined as the process through which multiple stakeholders identify a common mission, allocate resources, and engage in activities designed to achieve that mission" (Julian, 1994, p. 3).

The collaboration model used to address financial education for youth was based on Flynn and Harbin's (1987) concepts. They suggest that collaboration will result in favorable results if the attitudes of team members and key decision makers are supportive, that adequate resources exist, that the organizational process is complimentary for all organizations, and that skilled, committed people are involved in the planning and outcome. The collaborative process takes place in four stages:
a) Formation stage: stakeholders are identified and agreed-upon goals are identified.
b) Conceptualization stage: collaborators shared diverse philosophies in order to identify strategies for achieving goals.
c) Development stage: specific plans are developed.
d) Implementation stage: plans are implemented.

Additional theoretical concepts were used to achieve a successful collaboration. Participating organizations maintained their unique missions while collaborating on this joint project (McRae, Lawlor & Nelson, 1984). The on-going collaboration started with shared goals and progressed through role clarification and continued communication among team members (Iles & Auluck, 1990). Regular participation and information exchange fostered trust and progress toward the goal (Lawless and Moore, 1989). Members of the planning committee agreed that the financial education issue was one that no one organization could solve alone (Weiss, 1987). Resources were available to support the collaborative problem-solving efforts (Flynn & Harbin, 1987).

Formation Stage

Cooperative Extension granted seed money to create a collaboration to explore new ways to link financial education resources to youth. A number of youth financial education organizations were invited to begin a planning process. The organizations joining the collaboration included the Colorado Council on Economic Education; Financial Counseling Associates; Governor's School to Career Partnerships; Junior Achievement; National Endowment for Financial Education; Young Americans Education Foundation; and Youth Biz, Inc. The group immediately found common concerns and issues relating to financial education for youth. Although many of the organizational leaders knew each other, they had not, for the most part, worked together.

Conceptualization Stage

Educational efforts and the organizational missions of those represented included personal finance, economic education, entrepreneurship, career planning, and more. Several facilitated sessions addressed such questions as "What are our dreams?" "How can we make a difference?" and "Who are we trying to reach?"

Development Stage

The group used new computer technology and decision-making software, to generate numerous ideas. One of the most difficult challenges was to decide who the targeted audience(s) would be. After much discussion, the collaboration team agreed to focus on educators, both formal classroom instructors and informal out-of-school leaders. The project's purpose was to train K-12 teachers, Extension agents, youth agency directors, and others committed to educating young people in basic economic principles coupled with practical, motivating, exciting and fun applications. In addition, economic and personal finance concepts would be connected with workforce preparation and school-to-career efforts.

The group decided that the best way to reach educators and youth agency directors was to hold an event to demonstrate new resources, to share educational ideas and to create new connections. The event was named the Economic Education Expo. The Expo was scheduled for January as part of Financial Literacy for Youth Month.

The following principles were incorporated into all sessions: interaction, experiential activities, networking opportunities, shared resource programming, and fun. The Expo goals were to:

  • address coordination with economic standards,
  • provide opportunities for collaboration,
  • introduce the draft economic K-12 standards,
  • relate theoretical economic education to what is happening in the real business world, and
  • insure that every participant would leave with at least one new idea for educating youth in the area of personal finance and economics.

At the same time, planning meetings were scheduled with selected departments on campus. A major Extension goal was to connect Colorado State University more closely with external educational groups. This effort provided an ideal opportunity to connect faculty from Cooperative Extension, the College of Applied Human Sciences, the School of Education, and the Department of Design, Merchandising & Consumer Sciences to educators throughout Colorado to address the economic education needs of educators (and ultimately youth) throughout the state.

Implementation Stage

More than 100 educators from 32 Colorado communities attended the Economic Education Expo, and more than 40 inner-city, ethnically diverse young people participated.

The opening joint session featured Scott Shickler, from Educational Designs That Generate Excellence (EDGE). In a short period of time, he demonstrated a number of self-responsibility principles, interspersed with hands-on activities and prizes. Everyone had fun and the Expo was off to a great start.

Breakout sessions were divided into two tracks, with a choice of workshops for adults, and a entrepreneurship track for youth. Topics included Economic Standards for Teachers; Successful Entrepreneurship Efforts of Youth; "Be Money Wi$e" - a hands-on, learning by discovery curriculum; Animated Financial Concepts; Young AmeriTowne Program; Inner City Teen Run Business and Leadership Training; High School Financial Planning Program; and Junior Achievement Meets Economic Standards.

Following lunch, a collaboration wall exercise formed issue-based groups. These newly formed collaboration teams were offered the opportunity to write brief proposals for $250 mini-grants that would be used to further their dreams. Mini-grants provided funding for curricula, classroom materials, speakers, community collaboration, application of new technology such as PowerPoint for exciting concept presentation, teacher training opportunities, etc. Although the funding per project was small, educators said it made the difference in providing engaging, interesting, exciting curriculum to bring financial education to life for youth.

Feedback from participants

When asked if the Expo met their expectations, 84% agreed. Eighty two percent said that the Expo would help them do a better job. Comments included: "Wonderful opportunity to network/collaborate." "A very good workshop - excellent materials to take back for immediate use." "I enjoyed learning more about how to invest in order to teach children." The large majority wanted additional workshops similar to the Expo.


The rationale for holding an Expo came in response to public outcry to give young people the tools they need, while they are in school and active in youth organizations, to make good, responsible financial decisions throughout their adult lives. Extension does not have all of the answers to the challenge of educating youth. As catalysts, however, Extension staff can make things happen. The experience with Expo demonstrated that collaboration is a strong and sustaining process for helping educate Colorado's youth.


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Bayh, E., Chair. (1995). The National Education Goals Report, Executive Summary. National Education Goals Panel, Washington, DC.

Colorado Model Content Standards for Economics. (1996).

Flynn, C.C. & Harbin, G.L. (1987). Evaluating interagency coordination efforts using a multidimensional, interactional, developmental paradigm. Remedial and Special Education, 3, 35-44.

Iles, P. & Auluck, R. (1990). Team building, interagency team building and social work practice. British Journal of Social Work, 20, 151-164.

Julian, D.A. (1994). Planning for collaborative neighborhood problem-solving: A review of the literature, Journal of Planning Literature, 9, 3-11.

Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy. (1997). Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy Fact Sheet. Available: http://www.jumpstartcoalition.org [1998, April 8].

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