I obtained a Bachelor’s of Business Administration degree from the University of Northern Colorado Monfort College of Business in 2017. But I still feel I am playing catch up when it comes to financial literacy.
This is why I am part of Ednium: The Alumni Collective, a new group that taps the experience of Denver Public Schools (DPS) alumni like me for insights on what was missing from our education. Ednium empowers us to push for initiatives to benefit students today, while also building our own leadership capacity. We are focused, growing and ready to partner on solutions that matter.
One of our key priorities right now is to make financial literacy courses a requirement for graduation from DPS. We talk a lot about working toward equity in our schools – why don’t schools equip us with the skills we need to be able to set and work toward our goals?
I think it’s essential for young people to understand the value of savings, credit, interest rates and investing to build the future every one of us deserves, and attain generational wealth.
As the son of immigrant parents, I never heard financial terms at home growing up. I was raised and attended schools in the Westwood neighborhood of Denver. Like a lot of Westwood residents of Mexican heritage, I am neither from here nor there. No soy de aqui, ni de alla.
While attending school at DPS, I don’t know when I knew I was considered “low income.” I made money throughout my school years recycling cans, selling trading cards, chocolates, shoes, and working some summers with my uncle in construction – when I was not practicing football.
As a teen, I earned money in order to spend it on a fresh haircut, clothes and gas. Never did it occur to me to invest that money in any way. Having conversations with teachers and classmates about finances, needs versus wants, how to avoid predatory lenders and how to set long term goals – all of this would benefit students tremendously.
While at UNC, I had to become more financially aware while being alone away from home. I realized that moving off campus was cheaper than student housing and with the money saved I could buy groceries and then some. I also noticed that in many of the business classes, I was the only one who looked like me.
Many of my friends growing up have not gone to college. A lot of them already have families and share their experiences with me. It’s on me to share some of what I’ve learned with them and with others coming up through our public schools.
DPS offers a personal finance course that contains 90% of the content we are looking for. Last year only four schools offered it and 157 students took the course, a small fraction of the 5,000 students the district graduates every year.
My Ednium colleagues and I are navigating our way through big life decisions, hoping to own homes and attain financial freedom. We carry the weight of generational change on our shoulders. Young people should not have to navigate blindly through the financial dilemmas they will inevitably face. Financial literacy is too important not to learn as a basic life skill while in school.
Alvaro Marquez Gandara is an entrepreneur and graduate of Lincoln High in Denver and the University of Northern Colorado. He’s a member of Ednium: The Alumni Collective.