JA In The News | Junior Achievement USA


Prepare the Bank: College is Coming

Did you know: In 2016, students who were starting their first four years of college paid 28% MORE for college than the undergrads a decade ago did and 65% more than students did 20 years ago? Student loans account for the second highest consumer debt category, which is why it’s crucial for high school grads to consider how a student loan will impact them after graduating college.

In 2016, the average student loan was $37,172, the following year the average student loan debt for those graduating in 2017 was $39,400. A Junior Achievement (JA) survey revealed over half of high school juniors (52%) admitted they didn’t know the cost of college tuition and only 59% of high school seniors had $5,000 saved for college.

Before going in to a financial panic, here are some resources to prepare yourself or your teen for life after college:

Cost Breakdown

Wouldn’t it be great to know the breakdown costs of achieving your goals and dreams?

Now you can with JA Build Your Future! Not only is this app FREE, but it also provides teens with a roadmap from choosing a career to calculating the cost of reaching career milestones. 

Career Discovery

Not every 18-year-old high school grad knows what career path to go down, which is why JA My Way is a great tool! From a personality quiz to job matches, teens explore what they can do now to prepare for tomorrow!

Nurturing STEM Interests

Interested in a career that involves science, technology, engineering or math? You’ll want to check out JA Assembling Your Career.

Once there is a game plan for what career interests you or your teen, it’s necessary to start your financial planning. Here are some ways you can get financial assistance without taking out a student loan:

Fill Out Your FAFSA

Most of us have heard of FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), but what is it? FAFSA is an annual form that is submitted by a current or prospective college student residing in the USA for financial aid for federal grants, work-study, and loans. Various factors determine whether a student is eligible to receive financial assistance, including adjusted gross income, IRA deductions and payments, and many more. Click here for a list of what’s considered by FAFSA. As some states and universities distribute financial aid on a “first-come, first-serve basis,” it’s essential to get your forms turned in ASAP. Check out FAFSA FAQ here!

       Start Saving

The more you save, the less you will have to worry about down the road. All you need to do is start a savings account for your anticipated college expenses. Every little bit you can put away into this account will help.

Look for Scholarships

Scholarships are a great way to help fund your college education. Depending on the scholarship specifics, candidates may be chosen based on elements like GPA or a specific interest. To explore scholarship options, click here!


Building Financial Wellness in Teens

You work out for your physical wellness, you eat right to maintain internal wellness but what are you doing to improve your financial welfare? By definition, financial wellness is the ability and understanding of successfully managing financial expenses. This concept revolves around the sense of feeling financially secure and free in the present day and future. Those who have achieved financial wellness are typically healthier, more focused and are even more productive in their everyday work.

A Stress in America poll conducted by the American Psychological Association found more than 6-in-10 (62%) Americans felt money is a significant source of stress in their lives. Yet, when we think about the moment financial stress typically began, you may remember back to when sticking to your financial goals you bought your first car or when you were determining how to pay for college or trade school. Whatever your initial topic of money concern was, it was probably in your high school years.

During the summer of 2018, Cengage conducted a survey examining the impact of “financial sickness” in college students. Their research found 85 percent of current or former students felt high financial stress when it came to affording required class materials, compared to the 88 percent of students who were stressed to pay for tuition. With the majority of Americans and college students feeling a sense of financial illness, what are possible prescriptions?

Creating a strong financial foundation

A quick course in financial education is not enough to change an individual’s money management. The core of financial wellness is a sense of “well-being,” feeling that you have a strong enough financial foundation to execute the actual financial behaviors that necessary to reduce primary money stressors.

Financial Goals

In 2018’s Teens & Retirement survey, Junior Achievement (JA) revealed more than two-thirds (69%) of teens know little or nothing about financial planning. In fact, 30 percent of those ages 13 – 18 reported that they felt $5,000 or less was enough to retire on. These findings highlight the importance of establishing short-term and long-term goals at a young age to jump-start financial thinking. As financial wellness not only looks at today but what lies ahead, it’s crucial for youth to work towards a goal. Goals create accountability, as well as a reason to continue persevering through challenges that one might face in the future they also reinforce an individual’s budgeting plan.

Financial Attitudes

In the same 2018 JA survey, almost half (46%) of teens reported that they are not confident in their ability to plan for retirement. Financial attitude translates to how one feels about money that impacts their spending. The way an individual understands what is a need or a want directly impacts their behavior, for example. To beat the bad financial bug, take time to look over your monthly finances, determine if what you are spending money on is beneficial or a deterrent from your goals. The sooner you can identify unnecessary spending, the faster you can reach your future money-milestones.

Tools & Resources for Financial Wellness

Help your teen start planning for life after high school graduation with JA Build Your Future®!

Not sure what career to pursue after high school? Find out with JA My Way

Filling the Skilled-Workers Gap

Is a question that is top-of-mind for many high schoolers —what will I do once I graduate? For many, it has become the norm to take a loan out to continue one’s education for another four years at a college with the hope of landing a good-paying job. Yet recent data show that employers are struggling to find qualified workers to fill a record 6.7 million job openings. These are occupations that may not require a four-year degree, but require skills that can be obtained at a community college, trade school, or even on the job.

What Industries are in Labor Shortages?

Industry Insider has identified five “sectors” that are experiencing severe labor shortages. These industries include construction, retail trade, accommodation & food services, manufacturing and healthcare & social assistance. Within the healthcare and social assistance realm, there was an average of 1 million job openings a month during 2018, followed by 739,000 job openings a month within the accommodation and food service industry.

Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, stated, “Business’ number one problem is finding qualified workers. At the current pace of job growth, if sustained, this problem is set to get much worse… These labor shortages will only intensify across all industries and company sizes.”

What are industries doing to fill job openings?

As employers are struggling to fill openings, economists are predicting that businesses will have to start doing more to entice workers. Discussions around pay raises, trainings, and other incentives have been identified as some of the investments companies will have to make in order to bring in workers to fill job positions. In fact, some industries are finding themselves increasing the pay for skilled employees just to keep from losing them to competitors. Jim Baird, chief investment officer at Plante Moran Financial Advisors, commented, “Pressure is building for employers, and both hard data and anecdotal reports indicate that wage pressures are building…With the economy still humming, employers are able to justify stronger wage increases to retain or attract talent…”

Promising Industries for Today’s Youth

A Georgetown University Center on Education and Workforce study conducted in 2017 found that between 1991 and 2015 “Good jobs in non-manufacturing blue-collar industries, such as construction and transportation, increased in 38 states…” Careers in construction show promise as there are nearly 3.5 million people who have construction jobs in the U.S. paying an average salary of $59,000 a year.

The Federal Reserve has identified that in 2016, nearly half (42%) of graduates borrowed money to pay for college. Once graduating college, the average student loan debt owed was between $20,000 to $25,000. Those interested in skilled labor out of high school typically do not experience much student debt and will have a more robust resume with four years of work experience than their college-bound classmates.

Is Your Future in Skilled Labor?

Junior Achievement (JA) realizes the struggle the many teens have when making career decisions. JA Job Shadow® offers students a unique opportunity to visit a professional work environment, including those in skilled trades, and gain insights into how to find and keep a fulfilling career. To learn more, visit  JA Job Shadow

Are Entrepreneurs Born or Made?


There has always been a debate about whether entrepreneurship was based on nature or nurture. While it depends on your view, here is how JA sees it…

Entrepreneurial Driving Factors

Think of the entrepreneurial mindset like “Thunder and Lightning.” The internal drive is the thunder, but personal experiences equate to the lightning of the implementation of a business idea. Together they assist to create the perfect business storm. Without the personal characteristics to launch a person into experiences that they will learn from, they will cease to develop into an entrepreneur.

Timothy Faley of the entrepreneurial institute at Michigan’s Ross School of Business explains it perfectly when he says, “A good idea is not enough. You need to know how to transform a good idea into a good business.” Education and experiences harness the drive one possesses to turn their business idea into reality. One is not born with business knowledge, including making a business plan, seeking investors, or strategizing the placement of a product or service. All of these elements are learned through experience. The way one generates an idea and is pushed to make it into a real-life concept comes from something that one internally holds true.


After thorough research, five general characteristics are shared among successful entrepreneurs.


2.Innovation / Forward Thinking / Persistence

3.Open-minded / Optimistic / Confidence

4.Leadership / Hands-on

5.Passionate / Positive


It’s the combination of personality traits and personal experiences that influences whether or not someone feels prepared to undertake an endeavor like starting a business. Entrepreneurs hold personality traits that assist in the success of their business. Through experiences, an entrepreneur grows and develops to (comfortably) take risks, utilize innovative thinking, and employ sound leadership skills. The intrinsic variables assist in the development of experience becoming a perfect storm, such as launching a successful business.


Teaching Today’s Youth the Mindset to Make Their Storm

Junior Achievement offers programming from K-12 exploring concepts of financial literacy, work readiness, and entrepreneurship. The younger a child experiences concepts of entrepreneurship, the more likely he or she will be inclined to try to start a business later in life. In particular, JA Be Entrepreneurial® introduces high school students to the elements of a practical business plan and then challenges them to start an entrepreneurial venture while they are still in school.


Veteran Entrepreneur Spotlight: Donald Coolidge

How does a veteran’s military skills, training, and knowledge translate to a business startup? One word…“Vetrepreneurship.” In America, U.S. businesses that are majority-owned by veterans make up 9.1% of the business landscape. That’s over 2.5 million businesses in our nation that are owned by those who have served in the military.

To celebrate Veteran’s Day, JA wanted to shine a spotlight on a business owner who utilized his technical skills in the Marine Corps to build the successful tech-savvy company Elemental Path.

We spent some time with Donald Coolidge, veteran and owner of Elemental Path, to discuss his journey into entrepreneurship and what he feels it has to offer to the (not so) “Average Joe”.

JA: What aspect of entrepreneurship attracted you the most?

DC: I wasn’t really attracted to entrepreneurship… It’s sort of one of those things that snuck up on me. I had, throughout my late teens and in college and even in the Marine Corps, started dabbling in creating businesses, recognizing what I thought would be a viable business and figuring out how to put the building blocks into place. I never thought that I wanted to be an entrepreneur -- It was always this natural organic thought in finding an opportunity. The things I dabbled with didn’t turn into much for whatever reason. But in New York, while in the Marine Corps Reserves, trying to finish my grad degree and create a career for myself, I started to build tech products with another Marine in my unit. I liked the ability to build something and have people use it and see how it provides value. Instead of seeing myself as an entrepreneur, I recognized there is a need here…how do I create something and fulfill that need by scaling and growing it?


JA: What have you found to be the most rewarding part of being an entrepreneur?

DC: With the good comes the bad. There is a lot of responsibility, which I like. There are two perks I have discovered; working with a bunch of awesome people and allowing those people to pursue their passion by creating something that matters and is meaningful and to enjoy the work experience through our company. On the other end, we create some pretty amazing products that are having a pretty awesome impact on kids and families around the world, which is one of the most rewarding aspects. I’m sitting at my desk right now and I’m looking at several postcards that I have gotten from parents with pictures of kids using their Dynos (Elemental Path learning toy).


JA: In the Marines, you did a lot of intelligence work with high-tech systems. What inspired you to turn that knowledge that you already had into an education business?

DC: It was a big jump. We were taking on a big challenge right from the start. In what we do, the products (toys) use very powerful artificial intelligence that teaches and entertains. The program is trying to understand the kids that are using them. The Marines, and military in general, helped position me to take the challenges that you have in a business and create products and scale them. The Marines equipped me through the technology I was able to use in the Marine Corps. I was able to fly drones before people really knew what they were, and use other technology. It was the responsibility I was given as a 20-year-old kid while I was deployed and knowing that failure wasn’t an option…that prepared me. In startups, you constantly have limited resources. You have a timeline you have to make, and you’re going to face hurdles and hiccups along the way and you can’t make excuses and stop doing it. You need to figure out the problem, ways to address it and apply several ideas to figure out a solution. The Marine Corps helped me with all of that. The Marine Corps is all about quality and leadership and being agile and creative in the challenges that you face. Leadership skills and certain thinking skills that have developed through the military come together to make most veterans equipped to be really good business owners and leaders, especially in technology.     


JA: When you were starting this new venture, who influenced you the most?

DC: When we started out, I was really underqualified. There were so many things I needed to learn quickly and figure out how to do. A big advantage that I had was already being a part of a solid network of people (other veterans). I was actually able to connect with other veterans who had experienced the same or similar challenges, and they were always more than happy to give their insight, ideas and expertise. Coming out of the military, it was great to have other vets who were willing to help. I really encourage others coming out of the military to use the strong veteran network. Today, I currently run the New York City of Vets in Tech. What brought me to where I am in this organization is when I was starting Elemental Path. I started to go to these events to meet other veterans that I could get insight and advice from and I found several mentors. By going to these events, I was able to pitch my ideas to a group that were welcoming of new concepts. They were happy to give advice and feedback. Not only have I met great people, and have been able to gather feedback, but I have also found investors that support the company (Elemental Path).


A final thought Donald left JA with was the fact that veterans have strong skill-sets that should be advertised to more companies. The training and knowledge acquired in the military are not limited and instead can be integrated into various business environments.


JA thanks Donald Coolidge for his service and looks forward to Elemental Path’s newest smart toy, Scout!

About Donald Coolidge:

Donald Coolidge is a NYC-based entrepreneur with a passion for consumer technology – with a specific interest and focus on the intersection that exists between people and the technology we increasingly use every day. Donald launched his first startup in 2011 and in 2014 he unveiled CogniToys, internet-connected smart toys that are changing the way a generation of digital kids learn and play.

CogniToys are a Time Magazine Best Invention of the Year and were tabbed as the “Best Use of A.I. in Education” by the coveted A.I. Awards. CogniToys are powered by proprietary Friendgine technology that bring voice enabled devices to life with knowledge, personality, interactive content and much more.

Prior to becoming involved in technology, Donald served 8 ½ years in the Marine Corps in Iraq, Kuwait, Mozambique and Senegal. He’s passionate about mentoring young veterans and advocating for the veteran community. Donald currently serves as the NYC Director of VetsinTech and has participated in the Urban Justice Centers Veteran Advocacy Project, along with the Intersections International Veteran-Civilian Dialogue.

Marine Corps Service Dates: 2005 -2013

Enlisted Reserve: 0311 (B-billet, company level intelligence cell)

Iraq 2008-2009

Kuwait, Senegal and Mozambique (for smaller periods of time)


Connect with Donald Coolidge

Twitter: @donaldcoolidge1

Linkedin: /donaldcoolidge

Instagram: DonaldCoolidge


Connect with CogniToys

Twitter: @CogniToys

Facebook: @CogniToys

Instagram: @CogniToys


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