By Secretary Lon E. Roberts
Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions
Personal financial literacy is a life skill that can make a huge difference in the lives of Wisconsin citizens. People who are adept at making informed decisions about their finances are better able to survive in the ever-changing world of financial services. By arming people with the proper information about financial matters, we empower them to achieve true independence. That’s good for them and good for the Wisconsin economy.
As state regulator of the financial services industry, the Department of Financial Institutions (DFI) has a vested interest in helping people further their financial capabilities. DFI, through our Office of Financial Literacy, works in conjunction with the Governor’s Council on Financial Literacy to measurably improve the financial literacy of Wisconsin’s citizens. The Council was created by Governor Scott Walker in 2011 and is comprised of 20 individuals with a variety of backgrounds, including academia, state government, the financial services industry and the non-profit sector.
DFI and the Council work closely with a variety of stakeholder groups to promote financial literacy across the state of Wisconsin. Some of our accomplishments include:
- Financial Literacy Innovation Grants for Wisconsin’s K-12 schools. Since 2012, DFI has funded more than $750,000 in grants to 61 schools across the state for the implementation of innovative financial literacy programs. These grants helped those districts implement curricula that will benefit thousands of students for years to come. Seventeen of these grants were used to add a course in personal finance as a high school graduation requirement. Our data shows that more and more Wisconsin school districts are realizing the importance of such a course and are voluntarily opting to add it as a graduation requirement. In 2010, 25 percent of Wisconsin districts had such a requirement. As of 2015, that number had increased to 64 percent.
- Governor’s Financial Literacy Awards. Since 2012, 73 individuals, businesses and organizations have been honored by Governor Walker for their work in advancing the cause of personal financial literacy in their communities, schools and organizations.
- The National Institute of Financial and Economic Literacy (NIFEL) teacher training program. This training has been held annually at Edgewood College in Madison. The goal is to equip educators with the tools they need to teach their students about personal finance. To date, nearly 900 educators have been trained through the NIFEL program and last year, more than 46,000 K-12 students in Wisconsin were taught by teachers who have attended the program.
DFI’s latest initiative to promote financial literacy is related to college student debt, a topic that has been increasingly prevalent in the news. Earlier this year, Governor Walker announced the creation of a Student Debt Specialist to be housed at DFI. The goal of this initiative is to raise awareness of the importance of preparing for college to help students maximize investment in their education and minimize the need to incur unnecessary student debt. Student Debt Specialist Cheryl Weiss and other DFI staff members have been active on a number of fronts, including creation of a website to help students do a better job of planning for their post-secondary careers and making prudent decisions to help hold down the cost of college. The website will be unveiled later this fall.
This initiative is part of a larger effort by Governor Walker to help make college more affordable, including a historic four-year tuition freeze at all University of Wisconsin System campuses. That action has saved students across the UW System an average of $6,300 over four years. Other actions taken by Governor Walker include creation of a scholarship program for high school students who lead their classes in technical education courses; restoration of the Wisconsin GI Bill for veterans and expanding it to those with five years of residency; and expanded coordination by the Department of Workforce Development of internship programs between higher education and businesses.
In the months and years ahead, DFI will continue its efforts to help students succeed by encouraging personal financial education and working to make college more affordable.
Lon Roberts spent more than 40 years in the private sector as an attorney before being appointed DFI Secretary in February 2016. He serves as co-vice chair of the Governor’s Council on Financial Literacy.