Learning to manage your money: Hopkins requires students to take financial courses to graduate

Lana Rubinstein, River Falls High School
Lana Rubinstein, River Falls High School

The thing I pride myself on is it’s a class that absolutely everyone in that classroom will use. – David Braaten, teacher at Hopkins

Take a moment and think about how much money you’ve spent in the last two weeks.

Do you even remember how much you’ve used in a month? Was it less than $50? Maybe you didn’t even think about that one time when you whipped out your credit card and paid for your friend’s meal along with yours.

Credit cards, loans, credit scores, banking, budgeting, taxes, insurance and identity theft—these are some of the topics that David Braaten, a secondary master teacher for the Hopkins Public School District, covers in his personal finance class, which is part of a financial literacy requirement for Hopkins students.

In 2011, Hopkins became the first school district in the state to make financial literacy a requirement for graduation, according to the school website. Now, students who complete the program also receive three college credits from North Hennepin Community College in Brooklyn Park, which has partnered with the Hopkins business education department.

“The thing I pride myself on is it’s a class that absolutely everyone in that classroom will use,” Braaten said. “And it’s more than just to be a functioning member of society. You still have money implications. You can sit here and pretend that this doesn’t relate to you, but then you just really don’t get it.”

Hannah Nelson, a senior at Hopkins High School, said the class helped her begin thinking about the future.

“This class gave me a lot of information that gave me an understanding of what I will need to do in my financial future, like pay taxes and create a budget,” Nelson said.

Students in David Braaten’s financial class listen as Mike Rothman (second from left), the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Commerce, pays a visit to the class in April to record a podcast. (Photo courtesy of Hopkins School District Communications)

An upperclassmen personal finance class that Braaten teaches and a ninth-grade finance class are the only required finance courses at Hopkins High School. However, other finance classes are offered as electives. These courses can be a desirable choice for students who might not have a way to get to a college to take classes in programs such as Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO).

“The course is similar to personal finance classes offered in college so there is a provided, convenient option to apply for that college credit,” Hopkins senior Ritzcel Miguel said.

The program has two parts: a class for freshmen that is based on finance concepts and a class for juniors and seniors that is centered on application. The two go hand-in-hand and are part of the graduation requirement.

The students who take the upperclassmen course that sign up for college credit usually put more effort into their daily work, according to Braaten. The grade they receive in the high school class goes on their college


two young men sitting in a classroom

“I hold it over their heads,” Braaten said. “I’m like, ‘Hey, you’re getting a D. You’re getting college credit. Get (it) together.’ I mean, it steps up the ante for them a bit.”

After completing the two required classes, students receive college credit from North Hennepin Community College that can be transferred to any higher education institution that accepts credits from the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System, according an article on the school website. For the credits to be transferrable, the student also has to have a 2.0 grade point average.

“North Hennepin Community College recognizes the excellence in our personal finance curriculum and felt there was a strong alignment to what they were already offering,” Tim Amlie, the career and technical education coordinator, said in an article on the school’s website.

The number of high school students who choose to sign up for college credit is high, according to Braaten. An estimated 600 students per year will be able to receive college credit through the program, according to the article on the school website.

“The majority of them sign up for it,” Braaten said. “Statistically speaking, out of my sections of 36 (students) in class, about 27 of them sign up for the college credit.”

Christopher Gregoire is a junior currently taking the class, and he has specific things he hopes to learn during his time in the course.

“I want to know more about how to set some specific life goals, and how to achieve them,” Gregoire said.

Nelson took the class last term. And if it weren’t mandatory, would she still have enrolled in it?

“I believe I would have still taken the class had it not been required,” Nelson said, “because it is information crucial to my future and that I knew I would apply to my life.”