As it turns out, dental health is intimately connected with overall health. The same concept holds true with personal finances. With only a couple of hundred thousand planners to help the many millions of Americans who need them, there simply isn't enough expertise to go around - at least not for this generation.
Leaders in the planning profession are working to ensure that financial care keeps pace with professions like dental care for the next generation. Doing so requires the development of a rich and varied academic support system that will educate future planners and inform them with in-depth research. "The key is to establish a recognized body of knowledge," says Alan Goldfarb, chairman of the CFP Board.
In our latest look at the nation's leading schools for financial planning, we chart this progress with a snapshot of the evolution of colleges, universities and institutions that teach planning to the swelling ranks of practitioners. It's a rapidly evolving space: In the past two years, the number of CFP Board-registered undergraduate degree programs has jumped 20%; including graduate and certificate programs, the total is now 336. In addition, there are another 40 new programs in development, according to the CFP Board.
Of those programs already up and running, 176 are certificate programs offered mainly to mid-career professionals; 109 are undergraduate baccalaureate programs filled predominantly by college-age students. Another 45 are master's programs and, a decade after Texas Tech registered the first Ph.D. program with the board, there are now six doctoral programs. Many bachelor's and master's degree programs are taught online or partially online, enabling institutions to reach increasing numbers of students.
"We see all of these programs as partners of ours," says Charles Chaffin, the CFP Board's manager of academic programs, whose department reviews the curricula and faculty for each of the programs annually. "We have a vested interest in making sure they are successful."
In choosing the 25 schools - listed alphabetically by degree and certificate programs, degree programs only and certificate programs only - Financial Planning relied on a group of experts, both planners and academics. Our story is not a ranking - it's comprised of many of the schools on students' short lists. It also represents the wide range of ways planners are now learning their trade. Many excellent institutions do not make an appearance - at least not yet.
You can catch a glimpse into the industry's evolution in the story of one recent graduate: Amanda Lott, who received her bachelor's degree in planning from Texas Tech in 2008. Four years earlier, she followed a boyfriend to the university, majoring at first in mathematics before switching to psychology. However, neither concentration felt quite right to her. She wondered how to bridge her love of numbers and analysis with her desire to help others.
Despite the fact that Texas Tech runs one of the best-known planning programs in the country - and certainly one of the best-funded - Lott knew nothing about it. Moreover, she had never even heard of the profession. She's hardly alone.
Awareness of financial planning as a career track, especially in academia, remains so low that many students transfer into it only after entering college. That's the route Lott followed. As she paged through her university's catalogue of majors and course offerings over a Christmas break, she stumbled upon a new career.
"I was just thinking how lucky I got," Lott says. "I followed a boy to Tech. I'm thankful for my teenage heart that I ended up there and that I found my new love, financial planning. I got very lucky that I happened to be in one of the greatest environments to learn about this industry."
Texas Tech is working to remedy that visibility problem; this fall, the program became only the second financial planning program in the country to be elevated to departmental status.
Meanwhile, Lott already has been promoted from the rank of analyst to financial advisor at RegentAtlantic in Morristown, N.J. Her firm has a clear partnership track that will offer her an equity stake if she continues to perform. It's a route that, at the age of 25, she says she wants to follow.
"For me, there's no need to re-create the wheel and start my own practice," Lott says. "If I can find a firm that shares my own values, I would like to be a part of that for the long term."