Trinity High School senior Kendle Haught was delighted to receive offers to attend both of her colleges of choice: Washington & Jefferson College and Penn State University Beaver Campus.
But as college costs continues to skyrocket – the average debt for a college graduate in 2019 is $33,654 – a major factor in Haught’s final decision about where to pursue her education is the cost and her student debt load.
Thanks to a personal finance class Haught took as a sophomore, she believes she is more prepared to make a responsible decision.
“I wasn’t really thinking about money when I took the class. When you’re in high school, you don’t have a car payment or a mortgage or all the different expenses you don’t think about,” said Haught. “But the class teaches good skills to lead a responsible financial life, like budgeting, buying a car, what gets taken out of your paycheck. I tell as many people as I can to take the class.”
Haught is ahead of the game.
Financial literacy is lacking in the United States, said Trinity High School teacher Luke Modrak, who last month partnered with CHROME Federal Credit Union to host a Financial Reality Fair where financial experts from local businesses met with Trinity students to provide advice on managing earnings, savings and expenses.
“It’s important for them to understand how to manage finances because it has long-term impacts on their success or failure in life. If you have money and you can handle it, you tend to be better off in terms of living,” said Modrak, noting that two-thirds of Americans don’t have enough savings to cover a $400 emergency.
Additionally, only 24% of millennials demonstrate basic financial literacy, and 33% of American adults have nothing saved for retirement.
According to a recent study, 15-year-old U.S. students ranked seventh out of 15 countries on an international financial literacy test, trailing China, Canada, Russia and Australia.
But there has been a recent push to provide money management skills to high school students.
In September, Pennsylvania senators unanimously passed a new legislation that will allow public school students to apply personal finance credits toward high school graduation requirements.
The unanimously approved bill – which aims to help teens acquire everyday, critical knowledge necessary to make wise financial decisions – now goes to the state House of Representatives, where it will be reviewed and voted upon.
The bill would not make the course a requirement, but it would allow students to apply a personal finance credit toward fulfilling requirements in social studies, family and consumer science, math or business education.
The state Department of Education, too, recommends that school districts address financial literacy skills in order to meet Pennsylvania Career Education and Workforce Standards.
In 2017, Pennsylvania received a failing grade from Champlain College’s Center for Financial Literacy, which graded all 50 states and District of Columbia on their efforts to produce financially literate high school graduates.
Modrak thinks financial literacy classes should be mandatory, and it should start earlier because students often aren’t getting those lessons at home.
Many local high schools have added personal finance or financial literacy courses to their catalogs.
In addition to the personal finance elective, Trinity also addresses financial literacy in its economics course.
Bentworth School District will introduce a financial literacy class in January for high school juniors and seniors, and so many students were interested that two classes were filled.
Principal Jason Marvin said the idea to launch a money management course grew out of meeting with math teachers who told him they saw a need for teaching students “real-life math.”
Most people deal with money daily, whether it’s paying bills, using credit cards, or investing, but the teachers worry that students entering adulthood are expected to make financial decisions without being taught the skills to do that.
“They said we’re preparing kids for mandated tests, like the Keystone exam, and for next-level education, but we’re not preparing kids for life,” Marvin said. “Some kids might not need to know how to write a math proof, but they’ll all need to know how to balance a checkbook, they’ll need to take out loans and mortgages. We’re excited about kicking off this course.”
Marvin said students are increasingly considering other options besides pursuing college, once they consider debt and how it impacts their long-term financial security, such as their ability to buy a home or a car.
“Some kids graduated last year and decided to attend trade schools, or they went to vo-tech, saving them college debt,” said Martin. They didn’t want to accumulate debt, and it takes great vision to figure that out at that age.”
Modrak said the financial fair offered students an opportunity to see how their income impacts their wants and needs.
One student, he said, was despondent after a budget review showed she wouldn’t have enough money to afford getting a dog.
“It really illustrated the little things the kids aren’t thinking about, like the cost of having a pet. Or, if you’re going to a wedding and you need a $50 gift. Or, you want to buy scratch-off tickets for $10,” said Modrak. “All of those impact your budget. They have to know how to make responsible choices.”