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  • Writer's pictureW.B. King

WyHy FCU Partners With Stukent on Digital-First Financial Literacy Program for High School Students

By W.B. King

More than 16,000 teens in Wyoming are being offered a unique, cutting-edge simulated financial literacy program — all thanks to a pioneering initiative from WyHy Federal Credit Union, Stukent and 18 participating high schools.

“We, as an organization, made the decision that we needed to make a bigger impact in the youth financial option for high school-aged kids,” WyHy Federal Credit Union Chief Retail Officer Matt Ballou told Finopotamus.

“We have a state charter, so we wanted to make sure this initiative focused on the entire state,” Ballou said of the program that began in July 2022. “We know it takes time to get in with the schools. The program is 100% funded by WyHy [Federal Credit Union] — there is no financial obligation of the school or participation obligation.”

The $346 million Cheyenne, Wyo.-based credit union supports more than 22,000 members, of which 572 are of high school age.

“This is something new to attract [younger members] not to service an existing segment of our membership base,” Ballou noted. “We felt that Stukent offered the best, hands-on learning tool in the market, so we wanted to partner with them.”

A Simulated Financial Life

The Idaho Falls, Idaho -based Stukent has a host of simulated courseware programs, which are used in 5,700-plus institutions, including Michigan State University, Northwestern University and New York University.

At the high school level, the simulation allows teachers and students to mimic personal finance applications and solutions, including applying for loans, trading stocks, managing checking and savings accounts — while teaching budgeting skills and the importance of credit scores. The Stukent app can be used on any internet-connected device.

Leigh Ann Ojeda

For Triumph High School business and marketing teacher Leigh Ann Ojeda, the program, which began in her classroom in late 2022, has been a resounding success for the first eight students who have participated.

Noting that Triumph is an "alternative"high school, Ojeda said that’s it’s generally a difficult task to get students excited about coursework. There has, however, been a sea change with Stukent’s financial simulation model, which is currently only open to her personal finance class.

“They have a job, earn a salary. They pay rent and can buy a home if they so choose,” she said of the simulation. “They can buy vehicles, upgrade vehicles. They have to get their auto insurance and make sure their bills are all paid on time — it really mimics real life.”

In one case, a student purchased a vehicle, but couldn’t afford the insurance, so the student had to return the car at a loss. In another case, a student was buying stocks with his credit card, but quickly realized market losses were negatively impacting his credit score. He changed his purchasing approach.

Ojeda said the students are continually “checking on their fake financial life” and compete with each other on who has the best credit score or whose stock portfolio is out performing their peers.

“It is really based on their financial habits,” she said.

Triumph High School student accessing a Stukent simulated financial account.

One student, who couldn’t access his account over the holiday break, came back to school realizing his credit score nosedived because he wasn’t able to pay his bills. He quickly began remedying the situation and rebuilding his credit score, she explained.

“To get these kids excited about school and excited about school on their off time is amazing,” Ojeda said.

Triumph High School operates on a quarterly system, meaning the program will open to a new batch of teens every 10 weeks for the foreseeable future.

“I’m also pushing the math department to get their financial algebra students into the program as well,” she said. “This program has absolutely floored me — it’s had such a positive impact and the parents love it.”

Independence Account

Whether or not the financial simulation program will increase the number of teenage members at WyHy Federal Credit Union remains to be seen, but Ballou said the future of banking will be “heavily digital.” As such, the credit union intends to cater its recruitment and retention efforts to this mindset.

Explaining that Stukent’s offering is plug-and-play, Ballou noted that the implementation process in all participating high schools, some of which he has lectured at, is streamlined and effortless.

“Stukent is fantastic,” he said. “They reach out to the school to initiative the conversation. They train the teachers and handle any technology questions.”

While Ballou said the offering is “truly Stukent’s product,” the credit union is branded on the app-based offering. “It looks like the student is logging into their WyHy [Federal Credit Union] account.”

Along with the in-school simulation program, WyHy Federal Credit Union also recently rolled out a new in-house program, Independence Account, which is also squarely focused on addressing the wants and needs of younger members.

Matt Ballou

Ballou explained the Independence Account enables students to manage their own finances and start gaining financial independence through digital banking, a free debit card, nationwide ATMs, among other offerings. No adult signer is required, he noted, making it a first-of-its-kind service in Wyoming.

“This is really the partnership account for the [Stukent] program,” he said. “Technically speaking, they are unrelated, but internally we are treating them as a combined because they are so complimentary.”

Referring to one student who had purchased a sports car through the simulator only to find out that he couldn’t afford to also pay his electric bill, Ballou said it is anecdotes like this that will likely have the biggest impact on how these students will comport themselves as adults.

“That student will never forget that simulated experience when buying their first car [for real] and having to also pay their bills — it’s a core competency of that student having gone through the simulator,” he said. “Without a doubt, this program will be impactful.”

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