Three Takeaways On Financial Literacy As Part Of Education

Jul 30, 2019

In the first part of the series, "Exploring Education in New Hampshire," The Exchange asked: "Should schools be responsible for teaching students financial literacy, and what should students learn?" Read on for some takeaways. Listen to the full conversation here

Does New Hampshire Require Financial Literacy Classes?

New Hampshire is the only state that requries an economics class as part of a public education curriculum. According to the Revised NH Curriculum Frameworks standard SS:EC:6, "students will be able to explain the importance of money management, spending, credit, saving, and investing in a free market economy."

Daniel Hebert, president of the New Hampshire Jump$tart Coalition, which provides volunteer-based financial education to schools, said his organization surveyed 80 high schools to see if these requirements were being met. "I'm happy to tell you that in 2017, we identified eight school districts that not only met the economics requirement, but also the district required a stand-alone course in personal finance."

"You're not going to be successful in college if you don't understand college debt or understand budgeting."

One caller noted that her son took personal finance in high school, but felt pressured to take calculus, because it would look good on his transcript for college applications.

Angela Castonguay, a college counselor at NHHEAF who also teaches financial literacy at a private high school in Portsmouth, said she sees this with her students as well. 

"There's so much emphasis being put on what the colleges want for college readiness, and especially if [students] are looking at competitive colleges, what levels they need to attain." Castonguay said. She also said that schools that use her expertise, "realize you're not going to be successful in college if you don't understand college debt, or understanding budgeting."

At the same time, economics courses might not have enough financial literacy built into them. "Economics falls under social studies," said Daniel Hebert. "Many times, that's taught by history teachers with no training in [financial literacy.]"

Other states have recently begun to require some sort of financial literacy in K-12 education. According to the National Conference of State Legislators, in 2018, 29 states introduced financial literacy education, and 17 states passed legislation or adopted resolutions. On the national level, the Nashua Telegraph reported that Senator Maggie Hassan cosponsored a bill introducing a competitive grant program to help states build financial literacy into their curriculums. 

When Should Students Learn Financial Literacy?

We asked listeners what they thought about financial literacy being taught in school. Several listeners said that adolescents either don't appreciate or don't fully grasp the importance of financial literacy while in high school. Clay said, 

"Most schools teach what one needs to know. BUT adolescent brains don't plan well for the future."

And Philip said,

"Timing of teaching financial lessons is important. Freshmen often aren't read to hear the message. High school seniors and college freshmen are often receptive as it has relevance to their lives."

According to Hebert, "At the second grade level is where research shows that a child becomes a consumer. At age 7." At that age, he said, he teaches students the differences between needs and wants. 

"At the second grade level is where research shows that a child becomes a consumer. At age 7."

"In middle school, you can go up a little bit more. You start talking about the value of compound interest... these kids have so much power at their hands because they've got that age length ahead of them," Hebert said. 

Castonguay said that financial education needs to be started early. "It becomes a part of their conversation throughout all of their educational journey. When we present it in senior year, it tends to come off as 'adults are trying to tell you that education, that your dream of whatever it is you want to do, is going to cost too much.'"

What Role Should Parents Play?

Listener Michael wrote in to ask,

"So much of this conversation and I suspect, education, are laced with the speaker's values...What guards are in place to make sure the curriculum sticks strictly to the facts, and lets the injection of values remain with the parents?"

Castonguay said these values conversations play out in front of her as she works with families as a college counselor. "This is totally different from family to family. I don't know how we can control that, but I do agree with him that sometimes the person giving the information does have to step back."

"As parents, we talk to our kids about sex. We talk to them about drugs. We don't tend to talk to them about money."

Hebert thinks the solution to this "values-laden" conversation can be found in the educational standards. "[We] try to create a cookbook, so that the facts are presented in a consistent and fair way."

Both Hebert and Castonguay noted that students learn a lot about money from their parents. Hebert said, "As parents, we talk to our kids about sex. We talk to them about drugs. We don't tend to talk to them about money."

"It is harder sometimes for families to talk about money, and not be afraid, and know your kids can handle it. And taking on that job at home, I think, would be a great start."

Castonguay said that she has seen this play out in her college planning meetings with families as well.

"I absolutely have sat in FAFSA filings where parents have asked students to walk out of the room at the question of 'how much do you earn' or 'what is your adjusted gross income," she said. "And today, for several reasons, sometimes they don't want the student to think they have money."

Castonguay said that the most important message she wants parent to take away is to not be afraid to speak to their kids about money.

What Listeners Wish They Learned, And The Best Advice They Learned From Teachers:

We asked listeners to answer two questions: what did you wish you learned about money in school, and what were the most useful things you learned? Here are some of your answers:

Jodi said, 

"I didn't learn anything in school about money outside of balancing a check book. I wish they would currently teach kids Excel and simple formulas related to 401k, Roth, mortgage, CD savings programs, home equity lines of credit to manage a goal purchase."

George said,

"Budgeting, financing, paths to home ownersip, stock investment, saving for retirement... all of this would have been useful information to have at an early age."

Abby said,

"Budgeting and cost-effective grocery shopping! So many people my age inadvertently waste money on food."

Philip said, 

"The most useful thing I was taught about money while in school was that it's not a good idea to borrow money for anything unless it's going to save you money. Things like houses and cars that are totally necessary to work and live are fine. Recreational oppotunities like toys are not worth borrowing money for."

Ryan said,

"Pinkerton [Academy] had an elective class called 'Independent Living.' We were taught how to budget, balance a checkbook, rent an apartment, etc. In my opinion that class was essential to my transition into adulthood."