by Rod Berger, Contributor,
Lately, an increased emphasis on financial literacy has become a focus in helping students plan for higher education. According to MarketWatch, a recent study conducted by the U.S. Financial Literacy and Education Commission developed best practice recommendations in response to the total amount of student loan debt reaching nearly $1.5 trillion in 2019. The study predicts that participation in higher education will continue to grow, as the jobs of the future demand postsecondary credentials.
In addition to workforce preparation, higher ed can play a role in preparing students to make financial choices throughout their lives that allow them to better participate in the economy, attain career goals and build personal wealth. The economic future of today’s students will depend in part on the pivotal decisions made during the education process. Overall, selecting the right course of study, managing money while in school and navigating student debt issues are factors that play a far greater role in determining students’ financial futures than many often realize.
To extract key insights on the importance of financial planning, I recently spoke with Reggie D. Ford, CEO of Rosecrete, a financial wealth management company, to discuss his unique story of overcoming financial obstacles, entering higher ed and eventually forming a company that is devoted to helping those facing adversity, especially student-athletes, pursue financial independence.
Rod Berger: Tell me about your education journey and the opportunities you were granted that helped you thrive academically and professionally.
Reggie D. Ford: My education started in the Metro Nashville Public School system. The student body was comprised primarily of low-income students, gauged by the number of students on free or reduced lunch, and most of my classmates were black. After being recognized as a high academic achiever through an after-school program called Backfield in Motion, I was fortunate enough to get accepted into one of the city’s most prestigious private schools, Montgomery Bell Academy (MBA). At this all-boys preparatory school on the other side of town, I was given a financial aid package that afforded me the ability to attend.
I was expected to master large amounts of material at a very fast pace and, for the most part, everyone worked toward that mission. This was in stark contrast to the public school system where teachers would labor over the material, and frankly, spent more time on behavior correction than actually teaching. Once at MBA, good behavior was a given, and as a result, I spent more time learning new topics.
Berger: What obstacles did you face along your educational path and how did those setbacks affect your overall mindset toward business?
Ford: My high school years were great preparation for college from an academic standpoint, but entering Vanderbilt University presented its difficulties.
It only took one semester for me to realize that college was not going to come easy just because I had a good high school education. I had succumbed to the pressures of having a good social life in college and needed to relearn time management when given much more autonomy. Part of my solution was to join the football team. I had missed the structure that sports provided and football gave me that framework and applied the pressure that I desperately needed.
Professionally, I lacked formal on-the-job training. I worked odd jobs to make money, but none directly prepared me for my career. My lack of professional experience left me questioning whether or not I was ready for the working world after graduation. I decided to continue my education and received my Master’s in Accountancy (MAcc) from the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt. Afterward, I felt that I had finally received adequate training to begin my career with Deloitte and Touche.
Years later, the entrepreneurial juices kicked in and I eventually used the knowledge and experience that I gained to start Rosecrete.
Berger: Being a first-generation college student, what were some of the challenges you faced in preparing for college and the working world?
Ford: I feel that school did very little to prepare me for what I was going to face in the real world. No one told me how to budget or explained varying forms of debt to avoid—considering all the predatory loan shops that existed in my neighborhood. I value the education I received, but I think it’s counterproductive to teach complex calculus while neglecting the economic basics of daily living.
I am grateful for my high school academic counselors. Without them, I don’t know if I would have been able to present my case to universities effectively despite having the right grades and extracurricular activities. Neither of my parents graduated from high school, so they didn’t know the college application process. It was foreign to my family and me.
When it came to applying for jobs, I credit Vanderbilt’s career center for helping me through the process. I learned to perform mock interviews and craft a résumé that made me proud. Knowing what I know now, I realize the importance of internships and networking, but I failed to capitalize on those opportunities during school.
By the time I finished the MAcc program, I had built the proper skills I needed and had some formal on-the-job training to land a great job in my field.
Berger: How have you channeled your professional efforts to close the gap between what is taught in school and what is needed to live productively in society?
Ford: I have become so passionate about education and financial literacy because I have seen the positive effects both have had on my life, so I’ve made it my purpose to affect change in that area. I started Rosecrete to offer comprehensive financial services primarily to professional athletes.
One reason for choosing this demographic is that sports have a cult-like following in our society. If I can educate an athlete to become financially literate, then they can pass down knowledge to their followers, reaching millions. Another reason is that their lack of financial literacy has resulted in many of them being taken advantage of or caused them to mismanage their own money. For these reasons, Rosecrete aims to educate our clients so that they feel empowered to take control of their financial lives.
I truly believe that knowledge is power and education is the key. I desire to make higher education more achievable for those entering college. I decided to start a scholarship and co-founded the Brandon Key Scholarship Fund in memoriam of a dear friend of mine who passed away too soon. The scholarship is intended to benefit a graduating high school senior preferentially from a low-socioeconomic background who is attending a Historically Black College or University (HBCU). The student should additionally embody the well-rounded characteristics of the late Brandon Key.
Berger: How can financial planning and becoming more financially literate help better prepare students and families for college and career readiness?
Ford: I believe that education planning is a key component in preparing for your financial future. Education costs are rising rapidly, and not every student qualifies for scholarships. Having a plan in place to help alleviate the cost burden of college will allow families to focus on other aspects of preparing for school. Instead of students having to work odd jobs to make ends meet, they would have the financial freedom to take unpaid internships with companies. As a result, they would find themselves better prepared for careers after school.
Discussions about finances in the home, early on, may help students obtain better financial habits, ultimately impacting them in adulthood. The cycle can be passed from generation to generation, culminating in a larger group of educated and financially literate people equipped with future-ready skills.
The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.