Most adults in every age group say the high school class with the greatest benefit, if offered, is personal finance, a new survey shows. Money management won by a wide margin, topping the combined scores of math, social studies and science.
This should come as no big surprise. Most people leave school and never again think about algorithms or the periodic symbol for Boron. Meanwhile, they’ve got bills to pay—and they wish they knew more about budgets and credit.
More than half of survey respondents in each of six age groups starting as young as 18-24 chose money management, according to the National Financial Educators Council survey. Overall, 54% chose financial literacy over math (18%), social studies (15%), and science (13%).
These core areas of study are, of course, important to a young person’s education. They help develop critical thinking skills, foster discipline, provide context, and stoke curiosity among other benefits. School cannot be all about practical skills.
But maybe they should be a bit more about understanding the financial concepts that are on the minds of half of all adults. Only a handful of states require or even offer personal finance instruction as a stand-alone course in high school.
The federal government invests just $230 million a year in financial literacy programs, according to the council, a private company that provides such programs. But it spends $3 billion a year on STEM courses (science, technology, engineering, math). Financial education isn’t just practical; the financial industry accounts for 5% of all jobs in the U.S.
Personal finance is becoming an increasingly important area of study as young adults take on more financial responsibility, starting with their $700 mobile device and cell plan, followed by $30,000 in student debt. In their first job, they need to begin saving for retirement immediately to have a great shot at quitting work when they are 68.
The adults in the survey seem to get that. For many of them it may too late. It’s time for policymakers and educators to heed their warning—and help prevent today’s young people from having the same regrets.