FAIRFIELD, Conn. (AP) _ Valentin Kouznetsov has just heard his teacher explain the difference between a bank's common stockholders and its preferred stockholders.

Now he wants to know more.

''If a bank fails, what are the rights of the preferred stockholders?'' he asks, simultaneously raising his hand and furrowing his brow. And, ''Where do they stand in line to get their money?''

''In a word ... they stand next to last in line,'' says Fred Schadrack, the teacher.

It could be a scene from any American class on economics. But in this class, the students are all Russians, and they're all bankers.

Kouznetsov is one of 229 Russian bankers spending eight weeks in the United States learning about U.S. banking and financial systems through a program called the Academy for Advanced Studies in Banking and Finance.

Many analysts believe that modernizing Russia's antiquated banking system is essential to the success of the broad economic reforms and increased foreign investment advocated by Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

Money transfer is difficult with Russia's current banking system and there are few nationwide standards on interest rates, credit or accounting.

Many residents distrust banks and don't have modern checking accounts, preferring to keep their money at home.

''We say in Russia, you keep your money in your socks,'' said Kouznetsov, 56, who works as deputy chief of securities at Koopbank Edinstvo in Moscow.

''But this is changing,'' he said. ''The process is under way and the sense to keep money at home is going away.''

Neither the program organizers nor the bankers expect to see Russia's banking system, monopolized by the state for decades, to be modernized overnight. But the classes at Fairfield University, which began June 22, are a start.

The program is an outgrowth of the Russian-American Bankers Forum, a private organization was created at Yeltsin's request in 1992 to help reform Russia's banking and financial systems.

The federal Agency for International Development put up $3 million for the program, which drew another $1 million in funding from U.S. banks and private foundations.

The visiting bankers spend eight hours a day in classes covering credit, privatization, foreign exchange, internal controls, lending, automated technology and other aspects of banking. They spend most evenings working in smaller study groups.

After completing the courses, they will get three weeks of training at one of 116 sponsoring banks across the country.

Most of the participants hold mid- to senior-level banking positions in Russia, although there are also 14 bankers from Kazakhstan and Belarus, former Soviet republics.

The bankers are mostly in their 20s and 30s, although there are some older executives. About 40 percent of the participants are women.

''They range from bank presidents to foreign exchange dealers,'' said Schadrack, a retired executive with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, who helped screen the applicants in Moscow. ''We picked them according to experience in banking, a willingness to learn, competence, enthusiasm and academic background.''

The bankers appear to have adapted easily to life at an American university. They live comfortably in townhouse dormitories on the sprawling, 220-acre Fairfield campus and can't seem to get enough of the pizza and fresh fruit served in the school cafeteria.

Organizers of the program have scheduled some time for sightseeing, but the bankers say they are not on vacation.

''The atmosphere surrounding us here is pushing us to study hard,'' said Kouznetsov. ''This is hard work. It's very intensive work.''

Reforming the banking system is an important part of economic reform in Russia. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia has attempted to impose stabilization policies, but its economy has worsened.

''The biggest problem is the general problem of how to restructure our economy from a central economy to a market economy, and banks are part of the infrastructure that must be changed,'' said Dmitri Panki, who works as deputy chairman of the finance committee in the mayor's office in St. Petersburg.