In 2018, five states guaranteed standalone personal finance classes for all high school students – a number that jumped to 13 in May 2022 – and is expected to continue to rise. The classes help students learn about the basics of managing their money before moving on to college or their careers. They also learn about opening a bank account, budgeting and managing debt.
Angela Harrell, chief diversity officer and corporate impact officer at New York-based Voya Financial, said the classes are coming at a pivotal time in the students’ development.
“High school is when financial decisions start to happen, from working and driving to thinking about student loans, so that’s when it’s important to give them hands-on knowledge and ways to think about real-world scenarios,” said Harrell.
The goal is that students walk away with improved financial behaviors like smarter college payment decisions, better budgeting and increased investing for retirement, according to Yanely Espinal, director of educational outreach for Next Gen Personal Finance (NGPF).
That’s why the classes are gaining traction, Espinal said. According to NGPF’s 2022 State of Financial Education Report, about 23% of high school students in the U.S. had access to guaranteed financial literacy education, which is up from 16% in 2018.
“This movement is now getting headlines and media attention, which has even more people wanting to get involved in the momentum,” said Espinal.
Though the effort to increase financial literacy education is on the rise, some challenges still remain. A lack of generation knowledge, mistrust in financial institutions and short-term thinking continues to be obstacles many communities face. But experts say parents can fight for their students by advocating for financial literacy classes in schools and with local legislators.
“Ask your student’s administrator, principal or teacher: ‘Will my child get access to a full semester class of personal finance?’” said Espinal. She said that many schools might say they have the material in the curriculum because it’s included in another course. But when it’s embedded in another course it’s not as effective. “It needs that full semester of instructional time to go through all the important topics.”