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Jimmy Cochran leads a discussion on retirement plans during a recent class

Financial literacy classes give grad students an edge

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Graduate students are tasked with answering a lot of big questions.
 
But sometimes, the complicated equations and rigorous lab tests required of advanced degrees pale in comparison to financial decisions like employer insurance or savings plans. To help students navigate these life-changing questions, UGA’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources is offering a series of classes focusing on topics such as credit scores, retirement savings and investing.
 
Led by another graduate student—Jimmy Cochran, a master’s student in the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences—the topics were selected by Warnell students and offered twice every two weeks throughout the fall semester. There is no charge to the students, and they may take as many of the classes as they like.
 
Cochran said the classes are novel at the graduate level, and it’s filling a need.
 
“For undergraduates, (UGA) offers a general financial course for credit. But there’s nothing for graduate students,” he said. Across five classes, Cochran is leading discussions on retirement plans, health insurance, taxes, saving and budgeting, boosting your credit score and investing.
 
The idea for the course came up after Warnell’s dean, Dale Greene, heard that some graduate students were concerned about financial issues and had questions about decisions that come with starting a new job. To help them put their best foot forward when entering the job market, he worked with UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences professor Joseph Goetz to line up a qualified graduate student to teach some classes.
 
Funding for the initiative came from Warnell’s Woodward Fund for Excellence and donors Len and Beverly Woodward. Established in 2001, the fund’s goal was to provide Warnell deans with funding to support students in innovative ways. 
 
The fund gives deans the ability to be nimble and adapt to change, which is also a common thread that ran through the Woodward’s relationship. The couple met in the 1950s when Beverly, a student at Shorter College in Rome, enrolled in a study abroad program to the United Kingdom. While there, she met Len, who was serving in the Royal Air Force.
 
Len planned to study forestry in the United States once he had completed his service, and Beverly convinced him to enroll at UGA. As a Warnell graduate, Len went on to have a long career at Proctor and Gamble—the company owned pulp mills, which produced fiber for its consumer products. It sold these mills in the 1990s.
 
Now, graduate students are learning to adapt to change as they receive instruction in financial tools and decisions. Many attending the classes say they know a bit about most topics, but are hard-pressed for details in some areas. Some come to the classes for a primer before making the leap to a full-time job, while others are looking for direction with taxes or long-term investing.
 
While Cochran cannot offer specific investing advice, he and the students spark discussions, creating a collaborative feeling among the participants.
 
On a recent Wednesday, as the evening sun poured through the windows of the fifth-floor classroom, students discussed different retirement plan options and how employer-sponsored plans related to individual retirement accounts.
 
“I feel like I’ve picked up some things from my parents, but I didn’t have a comprehensive idea of what to do,” said Katie Quinlin, a Warnell master’s student. “Some of (the topics) I felt I knew a decent amount about, so I’m picking a few classes to help me learn more.”
 
On that day, the class discussion turned to the logistics of investing—the need for research and, perhaps, a professional’s help. Master’s student Alexis Martin had questions: Where could she put her money? How can she create a bigger nest egg for retirement? How would she manage different investments?
 
Cochran guided her to some answers—while being careful to not offer specific financial guidance—and then suggested she return to a later class, when he was planning to delve more into stocks and bonds.
 
“Oh, I’m there,” said Martin.
 

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