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American Students' Financial Illiteracy and What's Being Done to Fix It

The United States reached a discouraging new milestone back in August when it was reported that U.S. households collectively have more than $1 trillion in credit-card debt. And unfortunately, that number might continue to rise in the future with a large number of teenagers (and a lot of adults apparently) lacking in financial literacy.

According to the latest data from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), financial literacy levels among teenagers in the United States have remained stagnant in the past three years. Another study conducted by research firm ORC International, on behalf of SecureFutures, a financial empowerment nonprofit, found that 28 percent of teens neither had a bank account, kept a budget, or knew how they would pay for college. Forty-three percent of teens surveyed said they felt a financial education class would be more beneficial than a foreign language, calculus, U.S. History, or physical education class.

With the average student owing more than $30,000 after college graduation and student loans ballooning to 1.4 trillion, improving financial literacy is an absolute must. Tack on 18 being the average age most people get a credit card, and it’s easy to see how the financial decisions a young person makes early in life can have a huge impact later down the road.

Financial literacy isn’t non-existent though in schools, of course. Every ninth grader in Madison County, Mississippi, is being taught about money and how to manage it, from budgeting to paying off expenses. Students are assigned a monthly salary based on their GPA and must then decide what to save and where to spend.

"Some of them are like, 'Why do I only get that amount of money?'" Germantown High School Principal Wesley Quick, told MS News Now. "A lot of times, grades and your salary are correlated in your profession." For many of the students, the program, which works with lesson plans from a financial literacy website, has been an eye-opening experience. "It's been hard," ninth grader Hannah Duran said. "I've learned that you have to have money to pay for bills, and if you don't have it, you have fees you have to pay for."

There’s also a considerable gap in U.S. teens when it comes to being financially literate. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OEDC), which measures students’ financial literacy and runs PISA, gave teens in the U.S. an average of 492. The gap between U.S. students scoring in the top 90th percentile versus those scoring in the lowest 10th percentile is 280 points. Experts say differences in socioeconomic status is the likely reason for such a big gap in financial literacy among U.S. teens.

The need for more financial literacy in schools is being addressed, albeit slowly. Only 17 states currently require students to take a course in personal finance for graduation.

In 2015, the Illinois State Board of Education revised its social science standards to include financial literacy throughout K-12 schools. This marks the first year the standards are taking effect. Supporters of the change argued that raising the level of financial proficiency was a crucial move to change the future of Illinois where supporters say raising the level of financial proficiency will help improve the economic strength of the state where 38 percent of households don’t have enough in savings to stay afloat for three months.

“In a time where students and young teachers are consumed in student loan debt and financial debt, and as our state is in a fiscal crisis, it only makes sense our citizens are equipped and prepared to deal with financial hardships in their life,” Jeff Vose, former president of the Illinois Association of Regional School Superintendents, said. Indeed.

 

Article by Joel Stice, Education World Contributor

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