The Take Charge America Institute History

Take Charge America Institute—History and Outreach

The Take Charge America Institute for Consumer Financial Education and Research (TCAI) was established March 24, 2003. Originally housed within the Southwest Retail Center at the University of Arizona, TCAI began operation as a separate institute within the Norton School in 2004. The Institute principally developed, expanded and implemented research-based consumer financial education programs for students at the University, as well as for consumers and students throughout the United States, with an emphasis on assisting consumers to achieve financial literacy, financial security, and economic well-being. The ultimate goal was to strengthen families, communities, and the marketplace. Since its founding, TCAI has acquired generous foundation gifts and grants to pursue its research program and to operate several financial literacy outreach programs including Consumer Jungle, Money Teach, Take Charge Today, and Take Charge Cats. Take Charge Today and Money Teach have been formally detached from TCAI and positioned elsewhere at the University.

Founding of the Take Charge America Institute

In 1999, Mike Hall began working closely with UA faculty and students to create and fund innovative community outreach programs to elevate the personal financial skills of America’s youth. Mike founded and served as chairman of Phoenix-based Take Charge America, a non-profit credit counseling and credit education organization. With an endowment from Take Charge America, the Norton School created the TCA Institute for Consumer Financial Education and Research in 2003—the first of its kind nationwide.  






In 2005 Dr. Jing Jian Xiao was named the inaugural TCA endowed chair professor and Director of the TCA Institute of Consumer Financial Education Research. In 2008, Dr. Michael Staten was named TCAI Director, and served in that role until 2016. Former TCAI Director Dr. Mike Staten is now the Bart Cardon Associate Dean for Academic Programs in the College of Agriculture and Life SciencesRick Rosen, JD served as interim director from 2018 to 2020. In June 2020, Dr. Dan McDonald was named as our newest director of TCAI. In addition to serving as the TCAI director, Dan also serves as an Extension Specialist in the area of Financial Literacy.

Since its founding, TCAI has acquired generous foundation gifts and grants to pursue its research program and to operate several financial literacy outreach programs including Consumer Jungle, Money Teach, Take Charge Today, and Take Charge Cats. Take Charge Today and Money Teach have been formally detached from TCAI and positioned elsewhere at the University


One of the research centerpieces of TCAI was the development of the “Arizona Pathways to Life Success of University Students” (APLUS) project. An interdisciplinary team of researchers from consumer sciences, economics, psychology and human development collaborated to study how young adults learn to make financial decisions. Initiated in 2007, with seed funding from the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE), this study follows an initial cohort of 2,100 freshman students at the University of Arizona through their college years and beyond (up to 20 years, subject to funding).

APLUS can be found through the following link:

Take Charge Today (TCT)

In response to limited resources in the nation’s public schools, TCT was developed and offered online (free of charge), activity-based personal finance curriculum for high school and middle school classrooms nationwide. Embracing a ready-to-teach, standards-based curriculum, TCT offers schools and teachers the ability to include personal finance in the classroom. It was developed with a “by teachers, for teachers” emphasis; by a team of “master teachers” selected through a competitive national application process.

While within the Institute, TCT reported more than 40,000 educators nationwide had registered as authorized users of the TCT program, reaching more than one million high- school and middle-school students. Materials are organized to provide maximum flexibility, i.e., lessons can be taught sequentially to support an entire personal finance course or activities can be lifted and incorporated into other subjects (e.g., math, social studies). As acknowledgement of the effectiveness of this program, the U.S. Treasury Department included three TCT lessons as part of its educator toolkit to support its 2011 National Financial Capability Challenge. Beginning in 2016, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction adopted Take Charge Today as its curriculum to be used by more than 1,200 teachers in career and technical education departments statewide.

TCT can be found through the following link: 

Take Charge Cats (TCC)

The Institute’s premier local outreach program trains and supports a team of undergraduate students to conduct “peer-to-peer” workshops on the University campus as well as for students in grades 7-12 in the greater Tucson area schools. Named after the University’s wildcat mascot, TCC delivers workshops on the topics of securing employment, understanding a paycheck, budgeting, saving, time value of money, credit cards, credit reports, fraud, and identity theft. Annually, the Take Charge Cats conduct more than 400 workshops, reaching a total of 26 schools, five (5) community partnerships, and eight (8) University departments and programs.

TCC’s other collaborations have included: Primavera Foundation to provide financial literacy workshops within their “Her Family” program for low-income single mothers; Pima Vocational High School (multiple campuses) to provide TCC workshop series with hands-on activities to meet the needs of non-traditional students; TCC provides the financial education component for both Upward Bound Programs at Pima Community College and the University of Arizona; and TCC serves young parents through a partnership with Tucson Unified School District’s Teenage Parent High School program. And, Take Charge Cats “Invest in Yourself” workshop has been part of the Pima County Attorney’s Office learning series for juveniles on probation.

Take Charge Cats can be found through the following link:

Arizona Financial Faceoff

Each spring, TCC organizes and hosts the Arizona Financial Face-off, a day-long personal finance competition for Tucson area schools and organizations. This program is sponsored in part by through a generous gift from Hughes Federal Credit Union.

Arizona Financial Faceoff can be found through the following link:

Consumer Jungle

Through external funding, TCAI launched a youth- oriented website in 2011 to facilitate independent, experiential learning, based on the premise that financial capability is built over time and largely outside the classroom. Research illustrates that interactive learning through simulations and socialization opportunities are effective learning tools across a variety of academic subjects, including financial literacy. The Consumer Jungle website features online games and simulations to develop decision-making skills and illustrate consequences, as well as provides online forums and personal finance blogs to encourage peer-to-peer learning.

Since 1998, the number of states that have incorporated personal finance into their K-12 learning standards has more than doubled from 21 to 43; furthermore, 24 states now require students to take a course in personal finance prior to high school graduation, compared to just seven states in 2000. Consequently, thousands of teachers are being thrust into teaching personal finance courses, with little guidance from their districts. With these teachers in mind, TCAI collaborated with the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE) to build an online resource center for personal finance and economics teachers. The resulting website,, launched in the fall of 2015 and retired in the spring 2020. The site now directs users to the developers of the resources for middle and high school educators of all experience levels Arizona Earn to Learn: Matched-Savings IDA project.

Arizona Earn to Learn

Matched-Savings IDA project. In June 2012, TCAI and the University received a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Assets for Independence” program, to develop a multi-year Individual Development Account (IDA), a matched-savings program to encourage low- income families to save for college. TCAI collaborated with the University of Arizona Office of Student Financial Aid to create a $2 million pool of funds ($1 million from the grant; $1 million from Financial Aid funds) to award to families willing to establish IDA savings accounts and contribute to them on a monthly basis. At the end of a successful savings program, families with students who were admitted to the University were entitled to receive an 8-1 match against their savings, to be applied to tuition, fees and related costs of attending the University. A key component of the program was financial education for students and their families. Launched in 2012, the program received follow-up funding for a second round of admissions in 2013 before transferring administration of the program directly to UA Student Affairs and can be accessed through this link:

Financial Education Working Group

TCAI now partners with Arizona Cooperative Extension to expand delivery of financial literacy education throughout the state. The Financial Education Working Group consists of TCAI staff and Extension professionals from 11 counties and two tribal reservations. The group focuses on financial education through the home including development of resources for parents to teach their young children about money, called financial socialization; provides tools for families to establish emergency savings; resources for parents to know the cost of raising a child; and financial tips accessible through social media including FaceBook.

Building Financial Security: For Yourself, Your Family and Your Community – “Take Control of Your Finances”

This adult Financial Literacy Program Series (in-person or online): is offered once-a-week for 4 weeks, with each session delivered in a 1.75 to 2.5-hours interactive educational presentation. Lessons include workbooks to explore each participant’s current financial situation, and develop tools, skills, habits and confidence needed to improve money management. Participants are challenged to set goals and take action after each session. Participants are encouraged to discuss attitudes that impact financial decision making, tracking our spending behaviors, designing effective spending plans, building an emergency fund, the costs of using credit cards, how to read your credit report.

Where Does Your Money Go?

This adult Financial Literacy Workshop (In-person or online) is a Basic Money Management Program, created by Purdue University Extension and adapted by Arizona Extension. It is delivered in a 1.5-hour interactive educational workshop, during which participants discuss wants vs. needs, spending leaks, and prioritizing your budget, as well as how to create SMART financial goals and an emergency fund. The following questions are explored: Do you know how you’re currently spending your money? Do you have a financial plan? This introductory program focuses on developing a spending-savings plan that works for our program participants to help them take control of their finances.