Verbal literacy and math literacy are common enough terms when talking about education. But financial literacy is a term you’re likely much less familiar with. That is not your fault. After all, it is not taught in most schools across the country and, when it is, it is more often than not just one unit in a larger course.
The Council for Economic Education’s 2020 Survey of the States recently issued its biennial report and noted that while more teaching of personal finance was being done, only 21 states require high school students to take a course in personal finance.
Forty-five states require that personal finance be “Included in the K-12 Standards,” but only 37 states require the standards to be implemented by their school districts. Pennsylvania requires study of personal finance to be included in K-12 standards and requires the standards to be implemented in school districts but does not require school districts to offer a high school course in personal finance and does not require personal finance study to be integrated into another course. Nor does Pennsylvania require any standardized testing of personal finance knowledge.
If that sounds confusing, you are not alone. My inference is that the idea of educating students in personal finance is applauded but that putting the idea into action is too much trouble. In the end, students are the losers.
And why are students the losers? Simply because before they even graduate from high school, whether they plan on attending college or pursuing some alternative, students will be confronted by important and consequential personal finance decisions. And so will their parents. The fact is that too many have insufficient knowledge to make these types of choices.
Annually, TIAA Institute in conjunction with George Washington University conducts a study to assess financial literacy among U.S. adults. Its 2020 report found that many Americans lack the necessary personal finance knowledge to make sound financial decisions, with just 52% of the US adults surveyed answering the Personal Finance Index questions correctly.
For students who are just three or four years away from high school graduation, financial literacy will soon be a necessity which they are likely unprepared for. Whether going to college or entering the workforce, students will have to make financial choices about which colleges to apply to or which training schools, boot camps or apprenticeship programs to apply to. With this comes the question of how to pay for your choice. Of course, their parents have been thinking about (dreading?) this as well.
Ask any parent what the most confusing and difficult part of the college application process is and they will tell you it is financial aid. It begins with filling out the FAFSA, continues through trying to understand the financial aid package colleges are offering their child and, finally, deciding which is the best offer.
The 2020 Survey of the States notes that research shows that personal finance education encourages more prudent financial behaviors and points to research by Montana State University professors Carly Urban, Ph.D. and Christiana Stoddard, Ph.D. Their research compared incoming freshman at four-year institutions from states with personal finance graduation requirements to students in states without a mandate.
Dr. Stoddard said, “We found that in states with mandated finance graduation requirements for high school, more college students make better borrowing decisions, including applying for and receiving federal aid and grants, while simultaneously decreasing credit card balances.”
The evidence is clear. Each of us, students and parents, should take steps to become more knowledgeable about personal finance. There are very good resources available online for free. Good sources of information include:
MoneySmarts https://moneysmarts.iu.edu/index.html is a website of the University of Indiana Office of Financial Literacy providing a wealth of information and practical personal finance
LemonadeDay.org https://lemonadeday.org is a website that focuses on entrepreneurship and teaching financial literacy as part of the process
Khan Academy https://www.khanacademy.org/ provides a wide array of courses, including offerings on personal finance focused on Gen Z and courses on paying for college
Financial Literacy and Education Commission of the United States Treasury Dept. Go to https://www.mymoney.gov/ for links to information for students and teachers.
These and other websites you can find will enable you to increase your personal financial literacy and may even motivate you to lobby for a course in financial literacy in your school district.