Dr. Bill Hensley
President & CEO, National Endowment for Financial Education
Everyone should be concerned about the inconsistency and quality of personal finance education in our country. Are America’s youth learning the skills they will need as adults to manage their money effectively?
A Dismal Reality
On the surface, the answer is no. An ongoing international study among 15 countries ranks teens on their ability to competitively exhibit financial knowledge. The U.S. is completely average, placing right in the middle of the pack.
The results don’t seem much brighter closer to home. A national report card ranking states on their financial literacy efforts finds 27 states with grades C, D or even an F (California).
Financial Literacy In Schools
Are teachers or parents responsible? The answer is both.
Certainly there is a case for financial literacy programs in schools. A survey of 2,000 adults from the National Endowment for Financial Education found 68 percent of respondents believe financial education gets the best results when taught in high school, followed by college (53 percent) and lessons in the home (43 percent).
It should be a national priority for schools to require personal finance education. Some states are taking action, yet only 22 states have a requirement in place where a high school course must be offered, and only seven states have adopted standardized testing specifications. Regretfully, California is not among these.
That’s not to say there aren’t any positive efforts taking place. One example of great success is the California Community College System, which is embedding education programs at all of its 114 colleges. They intend to reach all 2.1 million of their students.
The reality remains that only a few fortunate youth are being exposed to financial education in school. This means parents have to step up their game.
How Parents Can Help
Parents have the most influence over their children, so they should commit to talking about money openly and often. Don’t make it a lecture, and when they ask questions you can’t answer, agree to find out together.
Positive lessons emerge from mistakes; don’t pretend you’re infallible. Put your financial missteps in the context of what you learned from them. Remind your child not to be intimidated. If they don’t understand something, keep asking.
Children grow up fast. Before we know it, they will have to make financial decisions on their own. Help them create a solid foundation of positive money management skills to provide them with better opportunities, make them less likely to be taken advantage of, and ensure they minimize the mistakes we all inevitably make.