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Free Economic Empowerment Curriculum Coming in November

by Dr. Cheryl A. Ayers

Guided by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), the primary goal of the U.S. Economic Empowerment Project is to offer a retroactive opportunity for disenfranchised, marginalized, low socioeconomic, and low educational attainment adults in all 50 states to learn basic economics, personal finance, and entrepreneurship. These three content areas are important in preparing all Americans to make informed decisions as fiscally responsible adults and productive participants in the U.S. workforce and economy. Ultimately, the project aims to be a part of the solution in reducing poverty and stimulating economic growth in impoverished areas across the United States by developing a more inclusive, economically empowered citizenry that is equipped to take full advantage of U.S. economic freedoms and opportunities.

To assist in accomplishing this goal, Dr. Cheryl A. Ayers created a customizable Economic Empowerment Citizen Seminar curriculum for adults to learn basic knowledge and skills in economics (e.g., scarcity, resources, choices, opportunity costs, markets, cost-benefit analysis, economic way of thinking), personal finance (e.g., financial goals, budgeting, reducing expenses, smart spending choices, saving, banking, debit and credit cards, credit scores, payday loans, debt management, identity theft), and entrepreneurship (e.g., earning additional income, entrepreneur skills assessment, market opportunities, easy small business ideas, business plan basics). This highly flexible, interdisciplinary curriculum weaves basic economic concepts and skills throughout the personal finance and entrepreneurship content for more informed and empowered decision-making.

A culminating, personalized action plan guides simple yet impactful next steps toward securing a more prosperous future. Other distinguishing features of the curriculum include:

  • Workforce preparation instruction that is interactive, non-intimidating, and confidence-building

  • Common statewide recruitment tool for more in-depth programs and courses

  • Field-tested materials based on economic education research, best practices, and adult learning standards

  • Multifunctionality as a standalone program, easy integration into existing adult education curricula for real-world contexts,and one-on-one counseling sessions.

Dr. Ayers chose Virginia to pilot the Economic Empowerment Citizen Seminar curriculum and accompanying train-the-trainer professional development program, which was held on September 28, 2018, at the Virginia Adult Learning Resource Center. More than 65 adult service providers from across Virginia attended the training from a variety of organizations including the VDOE Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education; The Workforce Development Boards; The Virginia Department of Aging and Rehabilitation Services; The Department of Corrections; The Department of Veterans Services; Goodwill Industries; immigrant services; community colleges; people with disabilities agencies; community-based literacy organizations; family literacy programs; and other like-minded partners. Following are training evaluation excerpts:

  • “The mission of the project is critical to the empowerment of the people in my city, and I believe across our country. The low-income populations have been done a great disservice in their minimal understanding of the way the economy works. This program, PowerPoint, and training are a HUGE step and a giant leap forward in better serving our communities”

  • “I coach people who are unemployed or underemployed breakdown [sic] barriers and find work. This course will profoundly change the way I approach the challenges that face my participants. For example, the economic choices are really the drivers of their barriers in most cases. The tools provided will give me a new way to address their challenges.”

  • “This program was enlightening! It provides a way to assist my clients with new and creative ideas. The introduction to economics is priceless! I can now assist my clients with a more broad [sic] view of their finances. The in-depth presentation of entrepreneurship will be a life-long gift to my clients. It may be the key to keeping them out of poverty and/or securing the next generation.”

After the training, grant-funded mini-grants were awarded to participating adult education and workforce development practitioners to beta-test the curriculum in Manassas, Keysville, Roanoke, and Richmond, Virginia. One mini-grant recipient, Ms. Leslie Bradner, Instructor of Psychology and Adult Basic Education at Southside Virginia Community College, reflected on her curriculum experiences by sharing,

The first time I presented the Economic Empowerment Seminar I used the curriculum in its entirety. Our attendees ranged from a 19-year-old GED® student to an 89-year-old who wanted to learn more about her finances because her husband ‘handles that.’ The economics section provided a solid foundation for the personal finance section with its interactive budgeting and decision-making exercises. What excited the attendees the most, though, was the exploration of entrepreneurship. They were genuinely excited by the possibility of making more income using their own talents and time. They enthusiastically brainstormed ideas for ways to fill the service gaps in their community. Since the seminar, I have been using the curriculum in my adult education classes. 90% of the economics material my students need is covered. I also use the personal finance section to teach math skills in a relatable context. For example, the students enjoy seeing what even small, incremental changes in their savings allowance can become over the long term. They all enjoy working with the Economic Empowerment materials because it is approachable and engaging.

Also a mini-grant recipient, Ms. Courtney Lord, Workforce Development and Curriculum Specialist with Catholic Charities Diocese of Arlington Hogar Immigrant Services noted, “I first started using the curriculum as a one-day workshop for the immigrant community. The curriculum is flexible enough to be scaffolded and modified to meet the needs of any learner. Hogar Immigrant Services now not only provides one-day workshops, also integrates the curriculum into the GED® test preparation courses and one-on-one coaching sessions.” Ms. Lord and Ms. Bradner also co-presented a session at the Virginia Adult Education and Literacy Conference in July 2019, highlighting the curriculum’s instructional flexibility and learning standards alignment.

Dr. Ayers will be delivering the curriculum training in two more states and making the revised curriculum available to all Virginians free-of-charge in November 2019.

The project is funded by the Calvin K. Kazanjian Economics Foundation.

Dr. Cheryl A. Ayers is the Founder and Director of the U.S. Economic Empowerment Project, Senior Research Specialist at the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning at the University of Virginia, Co-Director of the Center for Economic Education at Virginia Tech, and Economic Education and Research Consultant.