The Great Recession, a Covid-economy, mounting student debt and record-breaking inflation all characterize the economic lifespan to-date of Generation Z. But despite these challenges, students are more likely to be prepared than ever thanks to a greater emphasis on educating young people in personal finance.

Nearly 25 states require some form of financial literacy curriculum in public schools, with more states set to review additional legislation this year. However, ten years ago, this was not the case, and it was trustee and TC alumna ​​Joyce B. Cowin (M.A. ’52) who paved the way and established TC’s Cowin Financial Literacy Program.

“When the market collapsed in 2008, many wonderful, hardworking people who had saved money throughout their lives lost their homes, their credit and their money because they didn’t know the right questions to ask,” Cowin said upon the program’s launch. “And that should never happen again.”

Cowin recognized that the economic strife that affected so many Americans could have been somewhat mitigated by better financial education. Now, after ten years, the Cowin Financial Literacy program has served thousands of people across the US and internationally at no-cost to them, providing these educators with the support and tools to help students master key economic concepts.

Designed for classroom teachers, pre-service teachers and other educators, the Cowin Program focuses on essential financial concepts, such as savings, investing, budgeting, financial planning, credit, risk, consumption, and diversification while offering professional development credits.

“Our program is built on the principle that people learn best by doing, as first espoused by John Dewey a century ago at Teachers College,” explained former TC faculty member Anand R. Marri, Ph.D., the program’s lead architect and former Vice President and Head of Outreach & Education at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and current Dean of Ball State University’s Teachers College.

Distinctive in its emphasis on education and real-life case studies, the Cowin program is unique in equipping educators with a robust grasp on financial literacy that can be passed down to students for years to come.

Its thoughtful approach is similar to that of its namesake, whose philanthropic endeavors have not only left profound marks upon Teachers College, but New York City itself. Cowin is the founding benefactor of the TC-affiliated Heritage School, an East Harlem public high school specializing in the arts. A former member of the College’s Alumni Council, she has served on the Board of Trustees for more than 30 years. With her late mother, Sylvia Berger, Joyce also funded the creation of TC’s Cowin Conference Center.

Thanks to Cowin, the Program has reached educators and students in all 50 states and more than 15 countries through in-person Summer Institutes, online courses, professional development workshops at professional conferences (i.e., National Council for Social Studies annual conference), or the downloading of Cowin case studies and related lesson plans.

“I really enjoyed the case study model, and I found so many of the resources we read and reviewed to be applicable to multiple courses I teach, not just economics,” said former Cowin Fellow Christine L., while another, Hillary H., declared, “I'm eager to share this with my students — and with colleagues who may be interested in teaching it as well. I appreciated the diversity in the case studies and was particularly interested in our week on behavioral economics.”

More than 5,000 educators have participated in the Program and a large percentage of these educators continue to share the Cowin materials with their colleagues. Because of this, it is estimated that over 1,000,000 students across the United States have directly benefited from the Cowin Financial Literacy Program.

“You have the skills and the knowledge to make an even bigger difference in the lives and futures of your students,” Cowin said in 2019 to a cohort of Cowin Fellows. “I hope you’ll use this knowledge every day for the rest of your careers, so that we can continue working toward our goal of creating financial literacy in America--one student, one classroom at a time.”

Learn more about the Cowin Financial Literacy Program, and view free resources for educators here.