Though the recession is through, there's another kind of financial catastrophe underway — and instead of doubling down to address the problem, most Americans have their heads in the sand, said Craig Spreiter, a business teacher at Tartan High School.
"There's such a low IQ out there for financial literacy," said Spreiter, who helped bring a credit union to Tartan in 2013. "I don't think it's people's intelligence that's to blame, it's the insecurity, because nobody teaches this stuff."
He believes education is part of the fix — and one way to provide it is to set up student-run credit unions in high schools. The latest is Burnsville High School, where a Firefly Credit Union branch will debut next year.
It's a trend that's gained traction in Minnesota over the past five years. From Eden Prairie to St. Paul, eight high schools now have an on-site credit union where students and staff can open checking accounts, visit an ATM or bone up on 401(k) plans.
Another education piece is aimed at employees — often students — who gain career experience by working as tellers, designing marketing campaigns and giving presentations to peers about finance-related topics. Many are affiliated with their schools' DECA programs, a school club focused on marketing and business careers.
Some credit unions are completely student-run, while others have varied levels of student involvement. Hours and specific services provided also vary.
Wisconsin and Michigan — both states where credit unions have a strong foothold — have had credit unions at high schools and colleges for years. Wisconsin alone has 47, said Lyndsay Miller, executive director of the Minnesota Credit Union Foundation.
For credit unions, providing financial education is "part of our DNA," said Bill Raker, CEO of Firefly Credit Union, formerly U.S. Federal Credit Union.
Raker has "seen this work before," he said, having helped start the first student-run high school credit union in Kentucky in the '60s.
Burnsville High School is completing an addition on its south side, so now was a logical time to make space for a credit union. And the school's new Pathways program encourages students to explore a career path and gain hands-on experience in that area, said Dave Helke, principal of Burnsville High School.
"The stars kind of all aligned," Helke said of the project's timing.
Students in the business, marketing and entrepreneurship pathway will have the credit union as a real-world supplement to lessons in class, just as students in the global communications pathway can access the television studio, Helke said.
"It's going to teach students a lot," said Zach McGovern, a junior at Burnsville High School and a DECA officer. "It's going to be really nice to have an ATM especially."
Since the credit union is being designed from scratch, students are a big part of the planning process, McGovern said. He sits on a planning committee that recently attended a Firefly board meeting.
Firefly wants to make the branch look modern and cater its services and marketing to millennials, said Meggan Malone, a business teacher and DECA adviser at Burnsville High School. There might be iPads instead of tellers, and it could be open nights and weekends, depending on what students say they want.
And student employees will offer financial education sessions based on students' interests. That might include a 10-minute primer on filling out a FAFSA or an overview of credit scores, Malone said.
Raker said he believes the number of school-credit union partnerships will only grow.
"We see this as something that could be replicated," he said.