12 The Digital Divide and the lack Financial Literacy among First Generation

Jose “Jay” Fulgencio, Ph.D.

Oklahoma State University – Oklahoma City


Imagine walking into a bank and seeing no bank tellers around to take deposit money. A few years ago, that is what happened to me. I walked into a private bank to deposit money into my mom’s account with no bank tellers’ insight. I later realized that the bank had done away with the bank tellers, including the drive-through teller, and instead moved basic financial transactions online. Imagine a young person with no knowledge of online banking and no understanding of financial literacy terminology to figure out online banking on their own. Now throw in that the young person may also have no access to a computer and uses an old cell phone where it only works with public WiFi.

As a former assistant branch manager for a private bank and Certified Financial Education Instructor with the National Financial Educators Council, I know the frustration that people go through when they don’t understand how online banking works and the frustration of basic financial literacy terminology. The future of banking going digital has me more worried about first-generation college students, especially among minority groups, because I fall into the two groups. Studies show how the digital divide and lack of financial literacy education among first-generation college students can be set back compared to non-first generation peers.

As a first-generation college student myself, I had to learn financial literacy on my own through life experiences, and I did not have the latest computer technology growing up until I was in high school. A first-generation college student is defined as an individual whose family comes from a low or medium-income background or high school education without attending college (College Board, 2016). When it comes to financial literacy, studies consistently show that a large number of people lack the financial literacy skills necessary to make critical financial decisions such as taking out a mortgage or understanding the stock market (Mandell & Klein, 2009). First-generation college students are vulnerable to falling into debt, ruining their credit score, or lacking the knowledge of building a budget (Lusardi, Mitchell & Curto 2010). A recent study by the TIAA-CREF Institute stated that 12% of college-educated Hispanics demonstrated advanced financial knowledge, and only 32% displayed basic financial literacy (De Bassa, Lusardi, & Yakoboski, 2015). This kind of experience makes it difficult for Hispanics to be financial stable, comprehend financial literature, and build wealth for the future. I don’t see any easy solution to solving financial literacy and the digital divide at the same time.

The solution I have for financial literacy is that every university across the United States requires its students to complete a three-credit financial literacy course. Financial literacy education can play a pivotal role in students’ lives. Ineffective money management can result in individuals making poor financial decisions that may prevent them from reaching full financial relief and possibly living paycheck to paycheck. I have yet to figure out how to solve the digital divide among first-generation college students because of their complexity. For example, the digital divide includes unreliable internet access, older devices that don’t work, inadequate cell phone data places, and computers.

To reach a larger audience for financial literacy education the best way are free tools such as YouTube and social media like Instagram. I can teach an individual the basic concepts of online banking and the terminology associated by publishing online courses on YouTube, which I have done. The tools that I use to create financial literacy education in the digital age is Camtasia to record the video and publish on YouTube and Vimeo for easy access to anyone that is interested. Another digital tool I use to teach financial literacy education is Instagram. I published short videos on Instagram TV for individuals to learn about saving money, creating a financial budget, and developing financial goals.

No matter how many courses I publish on YouTube the individual still needs to access the internet. I can’t teach a person how to obtain a computer or a smartphone capable of opening up a bank account. How do you solve the digital divide and lack of financial literacy among first-generation college students?




College Board. (2016). Retrieved January 27, 2016, from https://professionals.collegeboard.com/guidance/prepare/first-generation


De Bassa Scheresberg, C., Lusardi, A., & Yakoboski, P. J. (2015, May). Hispanic Personal Finances: Financial Literacy and Decision-making Among College-Educated Hispanics (Publication). Retrieved January 27, 2016, from TIAA-CREF Institute website: https://www.tiaa-crefinstitute.org/public/institute/research/hispanic-personal-finances-financial-literacy


Lusardi, A., Mitchell, O. S., & Curto, V. (2010). Financial literacy among the young. Journal of consumer affairs44(2), 358-380.


Mandell, L. (2009, January). The impact of financial education in high school and college on financial literacy and subsequent financial decision making. In American Economic Association Meetings, San Francisco, CA.


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Learning in the Digital Age Copyright © 2020 by Jose “Jay” Fulgencio, Ph.D. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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