Effective financial literacy courses are absent from most schools around the country, leaving a gaping hole in the education of students who will soon be navigating an economy filled with rising costs and mountains of debt. States need to take seriously the responsibility of preparing young people for a successful future, a future largely determined by the financial prowess of adolescents entering adulthood.
Only 21 states mandate some sort of financial literacy be taught in a course required for graduation, according to a new report from the Brookings Institution. And Utah is one of only four states requiring a standalone course in which financial topics make up the majority of the curriculum. Here, Utah gets top marks, as it did in a financial literacy report card issued by Chaplain College in 2015. Perhaps a heritage of industry has permeated the Beehive State school standards.
Nevertheless, students across the nation need better preparation to make wise financial choices. The most defining factor in the magnitude of a student’s financial knowledge, however, has less to do with the structure of a class and more to do with parental involvement. Young people first learn about money by observing their parents and noting their financial choices. Parents who turn ordinary encounters, like balancing a budget or paying a credit card bill, into teaching moments set up children to mimic good behavior later in life.
Those lessons are necessary because more money flows into the hands of adolescents than some might think. Half of teenagers hold a job throughout the year and make an average of $450 a month, according to a 2017 TD Ameritrade study. Waiting for a course usually taken in 11th or 12th grade is a missed opportunity to teach sound financial principles to children.
Integrating parents in financial literacy courses is key to boosting the success of the class across the board. Take-home assignments asking parents to collaborate with their kids is one effective way to help students, notes Brookings, and it has the added benefit of simultaneously educating parents who may have developed poor habits or who have come from disadvantaged backgrounds.
From an institutional standpoint, getting qualified educators to teach a financial literacy course is also a must. The Brookings report notes teachers aren’t always comfortable teaching the class, finding 88 percent weren’t familiar with the Jump$tart National Standards — one baseline for financial courses — or felt unqualified to teach them. Yet, teacher training is correlated with student outcomes.
Even short-term workshops aimed at educating teachers on financial principles produces more confident and qualified educators. Making those workshops accessible and encouraging participation would be a good launching point for any school with lackluster course results.13 comments on this story
Of course, a school needs the class in the first place if it is to improve it, and it’s a mistake for 23 states to not require any financial literacy option for graduation. Few one-semester topics will have as much of a practical impact on the future of students as a course in money management — if taught well. Even then, mere exposure to the realities of interest, financing college, the virtues of saving and diversification, and the pitfalls of credit cards will give teens a leg up in maneuvering the transition into independence. Despite their unfashionable perception, self-reliance and financial literacy are two principles that haven’t yet lost their return on investment.