In other words, Lott - who is in the process of earning her master's in taxation from another school on this year's list, Fairleigh Dickinson University - is an exemplary new member of the next generation of planners. And it's worth noting that if she'd gone to Harvard or Stanford or to most other top institutions of higher learning in the country, the profession probably would not have her today.
FOR NEW GRADS, TOUGH PATH
Lott's story is striking in another way in that she secured a position right after graduating. Despite the strong need for planners nationally, many new graduates who emerge with planning degrees often leave the profession for higher salaried work in banking or selling insurance.
"There's a lot of reasons for that," Goldfarb says. Whether seeking a firm placement or trying to build a client base from scratch, new planners must take initiative to market themselves, something many programs don't equip them to do. "There is a degree of salesmanship, for want of a better word, involved with it."
As a result, more institutions need to teach not only real-life planning skills, Goldfarb and others say, but offer real-world apprenticeships for their students.
In part to address this issue, the CFP Board earlier this year issued a list of 220 learning objectives that it wants every program to teach its students. Northwestern University, for one, decided to revamp all of its certificate courses around the new objectives.
"It's a massive curriculum overhaul," says Peter Kaye, Northwestern's dean of undergraduate and professional programs. "We really do want to have an educational program that reflects the skills that people need to do the job well professionally."
And that points to a related, ongoing debate: Should programs focus on helping students pass the CFP Board's certifying exam, or provide them with a more well-rounded education as planners? The latter approach typically covers more marketing, communication and people skills.
Different programs tend to take different approaches. Many certificate programs are aimed at mid-career professionals and focus primarily on passing that exam, whereas undergraduate degree programs usually take a more holistic teaching approach. Not that this rule holds everywhere. Northwestern, for one, is seeking to bridge this divide in its certificate-only offerings.
In the future, some experts would like to see certificate programs disappear entirely, and be replaced by degree programs - as is standard in the medical and legal fields. But, with so many working professionals in other industries looking to become planners, that day is not likely to come any time soon.
In the meantime, Lott suggests a goal that the entire profession could surely get behind. "When we get to the point where we have people in grade school saying, 'Hey I want to be a financial planner,'that [will mean] our industry has arrived," she says.
DEGREE and CERTIFICATE PROGRAMS
Bryn Mawr, Pa.
CFP Board-registered programs (online and in person): Undergraduate certificate, master's
Enrollment: 30,000 (mostly online) in all finance courses
Faculty (full-time and adjunct): 19 full-time, 10 adjunct
Student-to-faculty ratio: Not avail.
FPA student chapter: No
Profile: The American College boasts that it's the nation's largest nonprofit educational institution devoted to financial services (although it declined to provide exact enrollment figures). The college also asserts that the number of planners it educates annually is among the highest. As a partner with banks, brokerage firms and insurance companies, it derives much of its student population from these fields. The college also produces educational materials used to teach planners everywhere. As the owner of the ChFC designation, the American College used to promote the designation as the only valid mark for financial planners, although it now promotes the CFP mark as well, according to Alan Goldfarb, chairman of the CFP Board. Two months ago, the college received a $2.5 million grant to establish a new center for ethics as a response to Bernie Madoff's crimes and other financial scandals. Classes are offered in person and online.
CALIFORNIA LUTHERAN UNIVERSITY
Thousand Oaks, Calif.
CFP Board-registered programs (online and in person): certificate, MBA
Enrollment: 170 online, 18 in person
Faculty: 4 full-time, 12 expert, 14 adjunct