CEO Stories: Financial Education & Economic Literacy for the Next Generation

Kathleen Lawson and Marsha Masters
Economics Arkansas

In the U.S., only 22 states require high school students to take an Economics course. Only 17 states mandate a high school level course in Personal Finance. Arkansas is poised to be a leader in financial education because of organizations like Economics Arkansas. Since its founding in 1962, Economics Arkansas has impacted the lives of over 4.5 million children by teaching economic literacy. The organization is led today by Kathleen Lawson, Executive Director, and Marsha Masters, Associate Director.

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With the goal of expanding financial literacy for students K-12, Economics Arkansas offers workshops around the state to give teachers a grounding in economics and help them understand how to integrate it into everyday curriculum. Associate Director Marsha Mason recalls the 10-day summer workshop she attended as a teacher as life-changing, because she, like many teachers, didn’t have a background in economics education and became empowered with the necessary knowledge and vocabulary.

As befits a program aimed to help students understand economics and capitalism, there is an annual awards program where teachers submit student projects, such as a the amusement park created by fourth graders who wrote a business plan and negotiated a hundred dollar loan from a local bank. An investing simulation called the Stock Market Game helps students learn about publicly traded companies, investing, and associated career opportunities. In Central Arkansas, the school district has had Shark Tank events where budding entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to judges. Even students as young as four are taught financial basics through the “Itty-Bitty Economics” program, incorporating songs, play, art and children’s literature.

In a state with great economic disparity – unemployment is around three percent up north while poverty is widespread in the southeastern delta region – education can help close the gap. Economics Arkansas has 15 educational service centers around the state where school districts can opt-in for training in central locations. After-school programs for students also boost participation and engagement and the goal is to increase those. The new partnership with Stephens Inc. to provide K-12 education around free enterprise is another way to scale impact statewide.

About the Series: Featured stories from the intersection of the free market and entrepreneurial success. Here we speak with leading CEOs, academics, philanthropists and up and comers on their contributions and perspectives on the American economy.

About Ray Hoffman: Ray Hoffman, a veteran business journalist, is highly-regarded for his news and analysis features and insightful CEO interviews. Representing BusinessWeek on air for twenty-one years, Mr. Hoffman was the morning business news voice on the ABC Radio Networks from 1995 to 2006. Mr. Hoffman also represented The Wall Street Journal, on air, for eleven years. His daily WCBS CEO Radio feature was recognized by the New York Press Club as best radio business news report in both 2012 and 2015. In this podcast, Mr. Hoffman invites some of America’s most dynamic CEOs to share their stories as business builders and perspectives on free enterprise.