How Debate Helps Students “Make Cents” of Financial Literacy

Financial Literacy Debate Round

Article photo credits: Reggie Agyen-Baoteng / Kusi Photography

A recent survey administered by Junior Achievement found that more than half of high school students don’t feel confident about handling financial challenges in the future. Worse, the financial knowledge gap between men and women is significant, in part because men are more likely to grow up talking about finances in the household and have greater levels of confidence in the subject (Stanford Center on Longevity).

We know debate builds knowledge, confidence, and provides a platform for conversation. That’s why we created our Financial Literacy Leadership Debates program: to teach concrete financial literacy skills and knowledge to girls and gender-expansive youth in an engaging and competitive setting. In 2022, we were able to return to in-person competition!

Read on to learn more about the program, what our students gain from it, and what motivates our judges to share their time and skills.

Debating Financial Decisions

Cayden Mayer debates

Cayden Mayer from Central High School has participated in this program for multiple years.

Both current debaters in our other programs (policy debate, Spanish Debate, and East African Debate), as well as brand-new debaters, participate in this program. Cayden Mayer, who earned both the top team and top speaker award at our tournament, has also participated in policy debate. They tell us:

“Policy debate is built around developing your skills in the policy debate activity. It teaches you really good research skills, public speaking skills, critical thinking, and how to think on your feet. But the topic is sort of the means to an end of debating. Financial Literacy Debate teaches you how to argue about the subject matter, but also how to apply these concepts to your real life. It has the critical thinking, public speaking, and research skills policy debate does, but you also get this additional awesome education.”

Students gain skills and confidence in both speaking and the financial sphere all at once. The MNUDL programming is based on the financial literacy debate model developed by other urban debate leagues (including Chicago, NYC, Los Angeles, and the Bay Area), who saw their students’ financial literacy increase by 35% after participation.

Financial Literacy in the Crypto Era

Each year, we create a financial literacy topic that will allow students to learn important financial literacy concepts, but also apply directly to the choices they will make in the present and near future. This year’s topic involved investing in cryptocurrency. A significant percentage of cryptocurrency investors are from Gen Z, 44% of crypto investors are people of color, and a 2021 poll showed nearly 2/3 of Gen Z investors believe cryptocurrency can make them millionaires- making it a buzzy and relevant topic for our students to debate.

“How do you personally feel about investing in cryptocurrency?” No words needed! However, debate asks students to put their personal feelings aside and argue for multiple angles of a topic.

Sage Lesiak (left) and Adler Young (right) of Roosevelt High School, coached by UMN policy debater Syd Hegseth-Huntimer (middle), shared their thoughts on cryptocurrency.

“I see so much on Twitter about it. I thought it was interesting to learn about, because I already had a negative perception of it. It didn’t necessarily change my mind, but I understand why people want to invest in it now,” says Adler.

Ultimately, cryptocurrency served as a vehicle for learning about larger financial concepts. As Sage tells us, “I’ve learned a lot, ironically, by looking up all the words I don’t know: ETFs, stock market vocabulary. I also didn’t know what money laundering was before this!”

Although Sage & Adler tried other types of debate, this was their first ever in-person tournament. Their goals were simply to have fun and push past being nervous, but they actually earned the runner-up team award and two speaker awards at our tournament!

Building Career Connections

All debate judges listen to the students’ arguments, provide feedback, and choose a winner. However, the judges for this program go the extra mile. They also share their personal stories about working in the field of finance. A recent Deloitte deport shows that women are greatly underrepresented in finance leadership. By creating these connections, our judges help students imagine different pathways into this field.

Sridevi Srivatsan

Sridevi Srivatsan from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis shares about her experience with our students.

Our students had the opportunity to learn from women employed in a variety of finance-related workplaces.

Fin Literacy Debate Judges

Thank you so much to our excellent volunteers for serving as judges and sharing their pathways into finance with our students!

We’re sending a huge thank you to (left to right):

• Betsy England from White Oaks Wealth Advisors
• Caitlin Wilson from RBC Wealth Management
• Jenna Kallestad from Augsburg University
• Peggy Chien from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities
• Molly Wickham from Bethel University
• Sridevi Srivatsan from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis
• Suzy Wheeler from FamilyMeans
• Tamsen Gylleck from BCU

Jenna Kallestad, who serves as the Financial Aid Counselor at Augsburg University, found value in sharing her expertise with students. Jenna tells us:

“Financial Literacy is an important topic that more young people need to learn, so I jumped on the chance to help more students work through their own financial literacy. I was motivated to judge by my passion for financial literacy, but what I valued most about the experience, in the end, was the students. They were so talented and the continue to have so much potential in their debate skills. Plus, they know so much that so many people don’t know (and should!)”

We appreciate the students, coaches, and judges who came together to make our 2022 Financial Literacy Leadership Debates season possible. Their investment is narrowing the knowledge gap and empowering students to make informed financial decisions, now and in their future.

Are you interested in sponsoring a Financial Literacy Leadership Debates program? Get in contact!