Why 14 states now require high schoolers to learn a lot more about money

More than half of teens say they feel unprepared to finance their futures.

Among the anxieties spawned by the pandemic, social media and other aspects of modern-day society, high school students are also worried about their financial futures. That’s likely because many don’t think they know much about personal finance.

More than half (54%) of teens say they feel unprepared to finance their futures and two-thirds say rising education costs have affected their college plans, according to new research from the Junior Achievement and Citizens Financial group. A significant number of teens say they would feel more confident if they knew more about how student loans work and how their education will lead to a job, according to Junior Achievement’s survey of 1,000 teens conducted in February. A full 40% reported never having taken a financial literacy class.

“It appears that teens are becoming more aware of the costs associated with higher education and are being more selective in the way they pursue that education,” said Jack E. Kosakowski, president and CEO of Junior Achievement USA, which provides K-12 financial literacy courses. “This may be the beginning of a positive trend, but it’s essential that teens have the information they need to make informed choices about higher education.”

A growing number of states are now making financial literacy a high school requirement and Michigan could soon become the 14th state to mandate some form of finance education, according to Next Gen Personal Finance, another provider of financial literacy instruction. Only five states had such a requirement just four years ago.

“At the most fundamental level, a high school education must prepare students for adult life,” said state Rep. Diana Farrington, sponsor of the financial literacy bill approved last week by Michigan’s legislature. “Personal finance should be part of that educational preparation. A financial literacy class will familiarize students with key financial concepts, helping them understand how to handle their personal budgets.”

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North Carolina’s requirement is considered a national model. High school students must pass a full-credit Economics and Personal Finance course to graduate. Financial literacy has also been fully implemented in Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, Iowa, Tennessee, Utah and Virginia. Five states–Florida, Georgia, Nebraska, Ohio and Rhode Island–are currently in the process of adding the requirements. Here’s what they look like:

  • Florida: The state reduced the number of required high school elective credits to make room for a half-credit personal finance course. The state is currently providing professional development to financial literacy teachers.
  • Georgia: Students in required economics courses must take the Georgia Milestone Economics/Business/Free Enterprise End-of-Course Assessment.
  • Iowa: The state’s half-credit personal finance requirement can be taught in social studies, math or CTE.
  • Mississippi: The Mississippi College and Career Readiness Course, a graduation requirement, includes a financial literacy unit.
  • Nebraska: Along with a personal finance graduation requirement, the state’s Personal Finance webpage has links to lesson plans and curricula.
  • Ohio: The Financial Literacy Ohio Learning Standards cover grades K-12, with specific guidelines for K-3, 4-6, middle grades and high school. The Ohio Department of Education also offers teaching ideas on its Financial Literacy webpage.
  •  Utah: Utah was the first state to require a stand-alone, half-credit General Financial Literacy course for high school graduation. Students can also fulfill the requirement by completing a one-credit Adult Roles and Financial Literacy course.
  • Virginia: Financial literacy standards are now embedded in the state’s K-8 social science standards. High school students must take a stand-alone Economics & Personal Finance course to graduate.

The actions taken in these states appear to have broad support. Some 88% of adults agree that their state should make personal finance education a high school graduation requirement, according to a poll conducted in March by the National Endowment for Financial Education. Spending, budgeting and managing credit would be among the most important skills for students to learn, those adults said.

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Across the education system, however, there are some inequities around access to financial literacy. Outside of the 13 states that have made it a requirement, only one in 20 students in predominantly Black and brown schools have access. The rate dwindles to one in seven students in predominantly white schools.

The digital divide is another reason teens are anxious about their future finances. Two-thirds of teens are worried about having adequate technology to continue on to college, the Junior Achievement survey found. Half are concerned about the cost of devices while around 30% don’t know if they will have sufficient Wi-Fi connectivity.

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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