It’s long been a lament of both recent high school graduates and their parents that most schools don’t teach upperclassmen about personal finance. Most students graduate with little to no knowledge about managing their own finances, setting financial goals, or planning ahead.
You can blame it on parents not teaching their children, or the antiquated notion that kids these days don’t know the value of a dollar. But the fact remains: high schoolers often don’t have free access to personal finance education.
Finally, many high schools are fixing this oversight. They’ve heard the call for the teaching of practical life skills, and seventeen states have answered with required at least one personal finance class as part of the typical high school curriculum.
Now high schoolers can learn how to use a credit card, stick to a budget, and save smarter right after their fourth-period geometry class, where they’ll never plot another matrixes in their lives. These personal finance skills will actually translate into real life, and will stick with them forever. Unlike the nuances of iambic pentameter or the life cycle of a fruit fly.
Just 20 years ago, personal finance was a required course in only one state; Illinois. But since the recession, even high schoolers want to learn more about how to manage their money wisely. They know what student loan debt is waiting for them, and they and their parents want to be better prepared.
According to Susan Sharkey, senior director of the High School Financial Planning Program (which is an offshoot of the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE)), "We can attribute part of that to the economic downturn.”
The NEFE is helping teachers get these courses started, even if they aren’t sure how to approach teaching personal finance to teenagers. The NEFE provides these interested teachers with free resources and materials like workbooks and lesson plans. According to Sharkey’s estimates, that NEFE reaches 12,000 teachers per year.
She says that one of the main reasons that it’s not a more widely offered subject in schools is due to a lack of teachers who feel equipped to teach it. "We see a lot of instructors who know it is important, but don't feel confident enough to teach it,” Sharkey says. That’s where the NEFE steps in to help provide support and educational materials to these school districts and potential instructors.
The organization did a recent study that showed that while 89% of teachers believe that personal finance should be a mandatory class, only 20% feel that they could competently teach that class to their students. Another obstacle to overcome is the economic differences between students and their families’ income.
But despite the challenges, the success rate is clear. It’s expected that the generation receiving these educational benefits will have lower debt and better overall personal finance skills.
In a study conducted by Discover, high school seniors who’d taken some kind of personal finance class were reported as being “more likely to save money (93%, versus 84% of students who hadn't taken a class), have a budget (60%, compared to 46%), and invest (32%, compared to 17%).” It’s clearly important to push for your local schools to make these personal finance courses available to the next generation.