Premier Members Credit Union is passionate about supporting education in our community. Growing from a small financial institution serving teachers in the Boulder Valley School District, to one that serves tens of thousands of members throughout Colorado and nationwide, they recognize the importance of financial literacy and responsibility as a critical educational tool.

Bringing banking to high schools

In 2009, PMCU partnered with Boulder High School to open the Panther Student Credit Union. Their partnership offered unique and valuable hands-on learning experiences for students to dip their toes into the world of finance and business. After the initial success of the Panther Student Credit Union, Premier Members created similar programs in three other high schools in the Boulder Valley School District. In 2010, Fairview High School launched the Knight Student Credit Union, and Monarch High School launched the Coyote Student Credit Union, while Centaurus High School opened the Warrior Student Credit Union in 2011. Each of these credit unions are primarily student run with oversight from Premier Members’ team members.

The student experience

High school students are recruited in the spring to work at their school’s respective credit union for the following academic year. After completing two training sessions at a Premier Members branch during the summer, students are equipped with the skills needed to run their school’s credit union. Each student receives similar training to the professional tellers in Premier Members’ branches.

“Promoting financial literacy, and operating the high school branches exemplifies Premier Members’ commitment to building lasting relationships that strengthen the communities that we serve. Providing educational opportunities and supporting the financial literacy of our youth is a staple of the “Premier” experience.”

Susan Finesilver, AVP Community Relations at Premier Members Credit Union

While school is in session full-time, students working at their school branches are well-equipped to independently operate the credit union. Students are responsible for setting up daily, managing the cash box, helping members and prospective members with their accounts, and working with confidential information. Student interns receive both an hourly wage and elective business credits throughout the school year.

Real-world financial skills

Each student working at a student credit union engages with real-world personal finance situations during their high school experience, allowing them to build financial literacy in a safe and structured environment.

All student members develop money management skills and come to understand the importance of saving for the future. They gain experience managing their own debit card and checking account and finding appropriate ways to establish and maintain good credit for future use. Not only do student interns successfully learn financial management skills, they experience committing to a position for an extended period of time. The students get to experience being professional and working with a business in a structured and secure environment. They develop unique cash handling skills as they deposit money into different accounts with larger transactions while keeping member information confidential. In addition to the cash handling skills, students learn and use other bank teller skills, as well.

“The student interns are learning critical skills that are applicable to anyone, not just those interested in finance.”

Steve Carr, Student Branch Liaison at Premier Members Credit Union

This is a rigorous program that both requires and instills student commitment and responsibility. Students leave the program with a toolkit full of self-initiative, responsibility, and critical financial and business skills. While it is not required, students often stay with the credit union until they graduate, and train younger students for their position.

The next step for Premier Members’ student credit unions

When schools shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic, the four student-run credit unions were forced to temporarily close as well. Premier Members is exploring ways to relaunch the program amidst our new high school environments.

Last year, we kicked off a partnership with Couragion, a locally owned software company working to inspire underrepresented students to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers. This women-led company uses an online platform to provide inclusive, work-based learning experiences that introduce students to jobs of the future.

The Couragion pilot program

We proposed a pilot program to the Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) to implement Couragion in order to meet the district’s career and technical objectives. Our goal was to see if this new software could more precisely align with these objectives than the Career Pathways program, an in-house mentorship program helping elementary students explore careers. Working with Arlie Huffman, Director of CTE Education for BVSD, and Katie Romero, Director of Student Support for BVSD, we were able to launch the program in the fall of 2020.

Who participated in the pilot

We targeted five BVSD middle schools for the Couragion pilot program to reach a cross-section of schools representing various geographies, academic environments, and socioeconomic demographics. Their school counselors received training in September 2020, and then their students received access to the platform for eight weeks. 

4,580 career “quests” were completed by students throughout the program, with each student completing an average of 4.1 quests. 

Initial findings

Students were surveyed each time they used Couragion, and the program showed an increased knowledge of STEM careers and school resources. The pilot results include:

Lessons learned

The student participants demonstrated self-awareness, critical thinking and a broadened knowledge of career possibilities:

Some students also focused on a specific career goal:

What’s Next

The goals of this pilot program extend beyond career exposure to impact on course selection and the perception of how STEM classes can lead to careers. With our partners at BVSD, we are now evaluating next steps to determine if we should continue to offer Couragion to BVSD middle schoolers in the 21-22 school year and how we might deploy it most successfully in the future.

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Impact on Education
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