If ever there were a time to teach teenagers money management, it is now, the Beaufort County School District's instructional chief says.
The subprime mortgage crisis and recession have led to high unemployment, high interest rates and more foreclosures.
And Sean Alford said students might have seen people lose their homes or get in trouble with credit cards because they don't understand financial concepts like compound interest.
"Students have to learn to make great decisions as they relate to their own personal finance," Alford said.
At the urging of a few school board members, the district researched programs on financial literacy to bolster high school economics classes.
South Carolina high-schoolers are required to take one semester of economics to receive a state diploma. That course covers macroeconomics concepts, Alford said. It includes a dose of personal finance, but he said those skills aren't the predominant part of the curriculum.
The district discovered an online program developed by EverFi, based in Washington, D.C. The company works with large corporations to provide its personal-finance platform to public high schools for free.
The company is working with BB&T bank to cover the costs of providing its online, six-hour course to students in the Beaufort County School District.
The course covers topics such as budgeting, managing credit-card spending and student loans, and the differences between renting and owning a home. It uses technology such as 3-D gaming, social networking, videos and online animation to teach the concepts, according to an EverFi news release.
Alford said students who complete the course will receive a certificate that could earn them breaks from BB&T, such as a free checking account with a $25 balance. They'll also retain access to the online curriculum after they graduate, so they can refer to it for advice once they begin to manage their own money.
Alford said the program will serve as a pilot in a few classes over the next few months and be used in all high school economics courses this fall, if teachers endorse it.
Mike Mahoney is among the district's first economics teachers to use the program. He said his students at Beaufort High recently completed the first of its 10 units.
"The feedback I got from the kids is good," he said. "They like it because it is interactive. That's right up their alley."
He said the program focuses on financial skills adults use, such as how to fill out an income-tax form and develop a plan for retirement savings. Students will see how much interest is charged on a car loan and learn how to build a credit score.
"It's practical," Mahoney said. "It's not something where they'll say, 'I'm not going to be using this in 10 years.' Yes, they will. They'll be using it every day."