Championing Diversity Among Financial Planning Students

The future of the profession: 2014 graduates of the financial planning program at William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J. The future of the profession: 2014 graduates of the financial planning program at William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J.

The undergraduate degree program in financial planning at William Paterson University in Wayne, N.J., is only six years old, but in that time, Luke Dean, academic coordinator of the financial planning program, has seen a steady rise in the number of student enrollments.

He’s also noted an increase in the number of degree programs – undergraduate as well as graduate – in financial planning in universities across the country, and that’s partly because more and more financial planning firms are looking to recruit students with financial planning degrees.

At the same time, however, many university students are not even aware that this career path exists.

Most students go to college “to get a job and not an education,” Dean says, and although they may be aware of the importance of financial planning, the actual job of financial planner is somehow far removed from most horizons.

Dean, however, is dedicated to the cause of getting a greater number of students on board to fill what appears to be a huge gap in the financial planning industry. Banks, wirehouses and independent advisory firms all have jobs and paid internships to offer, he says, and are looking to hire university graduates, so the more interest that can be generated for degree programs such as the one offered at William Paterson, the better for the profession in general. That's particularly so because the financial advisory community is aging, and there’s a need for fresh blood.

“There’s definitely an awareness in the industry of the need to add younger people and also younger people from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds,” Dean says. “The industry has also responded in a big way to the need for hiring more women, and I get a lot of calls saying “I want to hire your top female students.’”

That’s a huge change, of course, but still, Dean believes that there’s a long way to go in terms of increasing diversity, gender as well as ethnic, in the advisory profession.

That’s why promoting diversity at the undergraduate level is important to people like Dean and Vickie Hampton, chair of the department of personal financial planning at Texas Tech University, because increasing diversity in the student body will eventually parlay into the profession itself.

To a certain extent, this is easier to do in places like New Jersey, which by definition is one of the most diverse states in the country, and in Houston, where there’s a large Hispanic population.  

All the same, though, “we have made a lot of effort but we are still looking at a small percentage of minorities,” Hampton says. “Only around 18% or 19% of our student body is Hispanic and 3% to 4% is black, so you can’t really say that education is doing a great job at increasing diversity and industry isn’t: The problem lies on both sides.”

Diversity aside, Hampton believes the greatest overall challenge lies in getting university students interested in both degrees and careers in financial planning.  

“Part of the problem is that students don’t know what a financial planner does,” she says. “Kids grow up seeing doctors, attorneys and so on, but they don’t see financial planners. If they are good at math, their teachers and counselors send them to study engineering and business, so to change that, we need to get more planners as role models, particularly planners from diverse populations. And I think we should have personal finance come into school systems, not just because everyone needs to be financially literate, but because the fringe benefits of that would be that young people would realize there is a profession attached to this.”

For his part, Dean continues to work in a grassroots manner to endear students to the idea of studying for a degree in financial planning.

“We have done everything from literally walking the halls of school recruiting students, talking to top students in the business school to get them to join the program, and going into the classrooms to make announcements about the profession,” he says. “We have reached out to local high school teachers and have run boot camps for high school students. We have gone through the university career center to spread the word that we have a ton of jobs and paid internships on offer.”

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