Ten years ago, Tim Ranzetta was volunteering as a teacher when he faced a problem: He was on the hunt for a curriculum for his personal finance class, and there was none to be found. As the proverb goes about necessity giving birth to invention, he made his own. Fueled by his own extensive knowledge, he created lessons that were relevant and built to incorporate hands-on resources. As a result, his class resonated deeply with the first-generation-hopeful, historically underrepresented students at Eastside College Prep in East Palo Alto, CA.
His personal finance course also impacted the students’ parents, who began reaching out to Ranzetta with questions about their own budgeting and investing.
Teaching personal finance affected Ranzetta as well.
“I was hooked,” he says. “I saw the transformative nature of this course.”
The experience spurred Ranzetta to action. As he quickly discovered, his inability to find proper resources for personal finance education a decade ago wasn’t unique. Most students across the country simply weren’t taught the subject.
In fact, even in 2021, he notes that Virginia is only one of seven states (along with Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina, Missouri, Utah, and Tennessee) to require high school students to take a one-semester personal finance course to graduate; nationally, only 20% of students attend schools that ensure this type of education.
“However, outside of those seven states, there are more than 1,400 schools nationwide that have committed to providing every student with a one-semester course,” he says, pointing out the grassroots nature of his work and its ability to drive change that matters.
As April is National Financial Literacy Month, we spoke to the Co-Founder of Next Gen Personal Finance to find out more about how his nonprofit provides K-12 educators with material that empowers them to confidently teach personal finance to students across grade levels, and has expanded to support the integration of the subject in schools nationwide.
Fulfilling a Real Need
“Jessica Endlich and I founded NGPF with a simple premise: All students deserve access to a personal finance course that is engaging and effective prior to crossing that high school graduation stage,” Ranzetta says. Justifiably, he believes that possessing financial skills and understanding are “too important to be left to the school of hard knocks.”
Though Next Gen began with a focus on curriculum, Ranzetta says that the organization has expanded its efforts to encompass teacher professional development and advocacy—all part of its intention from its start to make an impact throughout U.S. schools.
“In the early days,” he says, “we spent lots of time listening to teachers, given our lack of experience in the space.” He recalls that the teachers they surveyed regularly revealed that they wanted more engaging, relevant, and customizable lessons. After building them, the nonprofit moved on to games, and partnered with digital ad agency McKinney. The results of the collaboration were nothing short of award-winning games offered in Next Gen’s Arcade, which are played by millions of students annually.
As teachers related the lack of professional development on the subject made available to them by their schools or districts, as well as an absence of a peer network, Ranzetta’s team created the NGPF FinCamp. “We took that concept on the road, running one-day workshops for more than 2,500 teachers in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., for the 2018 school year.”
In March 2020, due to the pandemic, Next Gen had to adjust their professional development model in much the same way as their educator peers—from early childhood through master’s degree programs—by pivoting online using Zoom, as well as presentation platform Nearpod.
“What we have witnessed over the past year is the amazing resiliency and commitment of personal finance teachers across the country. We added new certification courses to build their content knowledge in topics like investing, behavioral finance, taxes, and insurance. We added on-demand options that allowed them to learn on their own schedule at their own pace. More than 6,000 teachers invested on average 20 hours over the past year to hone their craft, learning how to teach in an online environment along with new personal finance content. From a business model perspective, this has allowed us to dramatically reduce the cost of delivering professional development so we can reach more teachers at lower cost!” Ranzetta says enthusiastically.
Commerce Career Cornerstones
His path to where he is today was not what he necessarily imagined when he was a student at McIntire.
Ranzetta says he arrived on Grounds with the idea that he wanted to be a chemical engineer. “Thankfully, one semester of calculus dispelled me of that notion,” he says with a laugh. He details how that turnabout served to make some space in his schedule, giving him free reign to explore his interests in the College before having to decide on a major.
Though he enjoyed courses in American Diplomacy, Ethics, and Russian History, he was ultimately compelled to apply to the Commerce School. The choice would ultimately prepare him well for his career in business.
He cites the experiences that refined his teamwork, communication, and technical skills, specifically.
“Many projects taught me how to get things done in a group, as well as the ingredients of effective teams, and managing conflict—yes, that happens, too! As a consultant, where project teams were the norm, this experience served me well,” he says.
Though he admits he came to McIntire as a “reluctant presenter and classroom participant,” he says he left confident in his ability to communicate and to be an actively engaged learner.
He remembers his data analysis courses helping him learn his way around spreadsheets, with programs like the long-discontinued Lotus 1-2-3, which Ranzetta says honed his technical aptitude. The courses also benefited him during his first three professional years as a consultant at Bain, where he learned the value of a data-driven approach to decision making.
“In the late 1980s, believe it or not, that was a skill that really stood out for recent college graduates. It meant I could be more effective and efficient.”
He also mentions Professor Bob Kemp’s GDP course as one of the most helpful classes he took at McIntire.
“The project for this course entailed projecting the U.S. Gross National Product (GNP) several years into the future and then using that projection to develop a strategy for a specific company. Ours was Chesapeake Paper Company. So, it required being an economist and a corporate strategist,” he says. “I remember long nights feeding lots of different variables into our GNP model at the Darden library and then scrambling the night before to build out our final presentation delivered to an audience of business professionals. It was a fitting coda to my two years at McIntire and honed those teamwork, communication, and technical skills mentioned earlier.”
On a Mission
“A famous tech innovator once said, ‘You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So, you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.’ That has certainly been the case in my career, which has lots of dots to connect,” Ranzetta says.
And while U.S. Shred, his first entrepreneurial venture, in the document destruction industry, gave him an appreciation for the importance of selling, it was having those experiences in the classroom that have brought his skills and passion to his work at Next Gen Personal Finance today.
The contributions Ranzetta has made with his nonprofit have already helped many teachers, but those supportive connections have also had a second positive consequence: Teachers become advocates in their school communities for more of this type of crucial and fundamental education that improves lives of their students by positively influencing their appreciation of and relationships with their own finances now and in the future.
And though there is much work to be done, change is coming. Ranzetta explains that 25 states have introduced bills to expand access to financial education in the last three months, but he still has his work cut out for him.
“While the path forward to Mission 2030—that all students will take a personal finance course in high school—will be challenging, isn’t that true of anything worth fighting for?” he asks, knowing that his two cents on the subject offer those school administrators who are willing to incorporate in such a worthwhile investment will better the prospects of their students by fortifying them with real-world, practical financial knowledge.