The sad but quick answer is…probably not. According to the 2018 Survey of the States: Economic and Personal Finance Education in Our Nation’s Schools, conducted by the Council for Economic Education (CEE), only 17 states require that high schoolers take a personal finance course. What’s worse is that while policy makers and the public have increased their focus on the issue of financial literacy for children and teenagers over the past few years, these efforts are not translating into real legislative change. The study shows that since 2016, not one single state added personal finance to their K-12 standards.
Teaching teenagers about personal finance seems like a no-brainer (to me at least, coming from a personal financial advisor). I have hundreds, nay, thousands of reasons why high schools (and elementary/middle schools) should teach finance, but to simplify let’s focus on one single number: $1.56 trillion. This is the amount of school loan debt Americans owe, spread out among about 45 million borrowers, according to a recent study. That’s about $521 billion more than the total U.S. credit card debt. To put this number in perspective, the study shows that among the Class of 2018, 69% of college students took out student loans, and they graduated with an average debt of $29,800.
So we know that directly after graduation, our high school teenagers face a decision that will lead them to one of the most expensive purchases of their lives, as well as possible crushing debt. So why are schools not teaching basic personal finance? According to Jeet Singh, Founder and CEO of Money Experience, a cloud-based software application and curriculum designed to improve financial literacy for young people in high-school, college and beyond, there are some deep barriers. “One of the main issues in getting financial literacy taught in high schools is most teachers, like parents, are uncomfortable with the topic. So the question becomes, ‘Who will teach it?’”. Singh continues by stating that time is also a major barrier. “Schools have trouble figuring out where to squeeze it into an already very busy school schedule”.
In order for teachers to be fully trained and for personal finance to become a priority in an already tight schedule, standards and requirements need to be changed at a state level. In order for all teenagers to be prepared for the financial real world, each of the 50 states must require financial education. To do this, there needs to be a push from the most influential voice we have: the almighty parent! Below are sites that provide resources on how to be an advocate for youth financial education.
- The CEE actually has an Advocacy Tool Kit which is a step by step guide that shows exactly how to get started, who to contact and what to say. To learn more on how you can effect change, visit your local CEE affiliate.
- Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy: Jump$tart Coalition National Partners and affiliated State Coalitions work collaboratively to advance the financial literacy of preschool through college-age youth through public advocacy and awareness, and by promoting and supporting effectiveness in financial education. CheckYourSchool.org is a national public engagement campaign led by the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy and is leading a new nationwide campaign designed to increase financial education in schools across America. There parents can see what their school is doing, and use the Implementation Toolkit provided to start the conversation within their school.
- The National Financial Educators Council provide resources and training for individuals and organizations who desire to make a lasting difference in people’s lives and contribute to the financial literacy movement. Parents can also find relevant legislation, petitions and awards like the College Student Protection and Financial Education Act, which encourages college-bound students to take a personal finance class before they take on student loan debt.