What Progress? 20 Years of Financial Literacy

By Dan Kadlec

February 8, 2018

Failing at financial literacy

If the nearby chart was a stock, you would sell it. You would do that even if the stock was of a company that might one day rid society of Alzheimer’s, global warming, and the Kardashians. Why? Despite all that promise, the stock has gone nowhere—and this would be a smart economic decision.

This is not a stock chart, however. We are never getting rid of the Kardashians, and this picture represents something almost as disturbing. Okay, it is actually more disturbing—way more disturbing. The graph shows 20 years of “progress” in the effort to bring financial literacy instruction to our nation’s schools. After an initial burst of success, the effort has flat-lined in every category and a new report leaves little room for optimism.

In its Survey of the States, a report issued every two years, the Council for Economic Education found almost no movement since the 2016 report and painfully little movement the last two decades.

If finLit was a stock, you would sell

According to the new report:

The number of states that require high school students to take a course in personal finance is 17, unchanged from two and four years ago.

The number of states that require high school students to take a course in economics is 22, up from 20 two years ago but still less than half the country and unchanged from 2014.

The number of states that require standardized testing of economic concepts is 16, unchanged the past four surveys and the lowest figure since the surveys began in 1998.

The number of states that include personal finance in their K-12 standards and require those standards to be taught is 45 and 37, respectively, both unchanged from two years ago.

While little has changed since 2016, the longer trend lines…

• • •

…as they relate to personal finance—as opposed to economics—are modestly higher. For example, the 22 states that require a personal finance course be offered is an improvement from seven in 2000. The 17 states that require a personal finance course be taken is up from five in 2000.

As a nation, we have been talking up the need for financial literacy since the late 1990s. The discussion took on more weight during the financial crisis. A lot of research has fallen short of proving the benefits of financial education. Yet that seems largely due to this being a relatively new field of study. More recent studies show that students in states that require financial education have higher credit scores, more responsible spending habits, and are less prone to compulsive shopping.

The survey singles out Michigan, Georgia, Utah and Texas as leaders that now require personal finance and economics courses to be offered and taken and to include this knowledge base in state standards and standardized testing. They join Indiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, and South Carolina as such trailblazers.

The findings generally are in sync with another report from the Champlain College Center for Financial Literacy. That report last fall gave six of these trailblazer states an A or a B for recent strides in promoting financial literacy. The Champlain report has a different rating system. It awarded Indiana and New Mexico only a grade of C.

Save a Child’s Financial Future for $8.48

Ohio has a long way to go. It has no requirement that students take or even be offered a course in economics or personal finance. State Sen. Lou Terhar points to the result: Ohio ranks fourth worst in financial literacy of the 50 states; it has the sixth highest proportion of college graduate student loan debt; and it ranks 33 in per capita retirement savings.

Ohio’s Terhar calls for FinLit

To change the equation, the state set aside $318,000 for Smart Ohio, a program that supports financial literacy coursework, teacher stipends, student assessments, and professional development for teachers in grades 1-6. The pilot project resulted in measurable gains in the financial know-how of children.

In the recent difficult budget negotiation, the Ohio General Assembly extended funding for Smart Ohio, which so far has prepared 500 teachers who in turn reached 12,500 students. By 2021, this program will reach 75,000 students at a cost of just $8.48 per student, Terhar writes in the Council for Economic Education’s 2018 Survey of the States.

This is the kind of progress that helped Ohio earn a B for financial literacy efforts in the a widely cited annual report card from the Champlain College Center for Financial Literacy. “The legislature’s support of this statewide program reflects a belief that the future of our state lies in the economic and financial literacy of our students,” Terhar writes. “We are proud to support our future leaders in their development of good decision-making skills.

More on financial education in the states:

Signs that Financial Education May Bubble Up

These States are Boosting Financial Education Below the Radar

These States are Moving Forward on Financial Literacy in School

Fed Up with Poor Financial Literacy Rankings, Arkansas Gets Serious

States That Make The Grade in Financial Literacy

Posted in Youth on February, 2018