Financial Reality Fair helps State High students make sense out of dollars

A few weeks from graduation, the State College Area High School gym played host to future nurses, mechanics, graphic artists and several others looking to map out their financial lives.

As part of the school’s Financial Reality Fair, students got a glimpse of the near-future on Monday, choosing potential careers and seeing the effects of their financial decisions. According to State College Federal Credit Union CEO and event coordinator Terry Shoemaker, the students picked a wide range of vocations and received guidance from a coalition of teachers, credit union employees and volunteers from local businesses.

About 70 students participated in the fair, which is in its second year.

“It’s a very eye-opening and rewarding experience for the students because they are asked to deal with things that they’re going to be facing anytime between the next few months to the next few years,” Shoemaker said. “For some of them, these were some choices that they had to learn where money comes from and from their own respective households, and how much some other things are actually going to cost them once they get out there.”

Students circulated through 20 booths where they decided on transportation costs, insurance and even whether or not to have a pet. Equipped with an ad-hoc credit card and a small amount in their savings and checking accounts, they navigated various scenarios that young adults face after graduation.

Starting salaries were assigned depending on career choice. Then reality — or at least a taste of it — set in.

“The first reality for them was that you don’t take home everything you earn,” Shoemaker said.

The advisers discussed topics such as taxes and retirement savings. They assigned students an amount of student loan debt based on their prospective educational requirements. Balancing car payments with cellphone bills and apartment costs added to the fun.

The fair was a joint effort by the school and several regional credit unions, including State College Federal Credit Union, Penn State Federal Credit Union, Titan Federal Credit Union, Timberland Federal Credit Union and the Pennsylvania Credit Union Association. Shoemaker estimated about 40 individuals volunteered to help with the two-hour event.

Chris Warren, an executive board member for the SCFCU and an instructor in the Career Technology Center for the school district, said the involved organizations are looking to bring the fair to other schools in the region next year.

“It gives the kids the opportunity to get the reality check that you have when you get out of school,” Warren said. “Where they’re in a household where someone else is paying the bills and then when they’re on their own, it’s a shock. So to be able to prepare them ahead of time is really the benefit.”

Roger Van Scyoc: 814-231-4698, @rogervanscy