The past several decades have seen a large uptick in a focus on ensuring that students are college and career ready for their postsecondary life. Despite a tremendous amount of time, resources, and energy being dedicated to this effort, most districts and educators have focused on building the academic and technical skills students need beyond high school. Though those skills are fundamental, this approach overlooks many key life skills that students need to be successful as adults. The umbrella of college and career readiness must be expanded to include financial literacy and preparedness in order to ensure that students are truly prepared to operate, make decisions, and thrive beyond high school.
As of 2020, 10 states mandated personal finance courses for a high school diploma (separate from an economics course). Another 21 states embedded personal finance into another course such as economics or mathematics. And in 2021, 25 states introduced legislation which would require some form of financial literacy. Unfortunately, many of these bills failed to make it out of the legislative process. If we expect high school graduates to be smart, self-managing participants in the credit, housing, and consumer culture, then they need the knowledge and skills to be explicitly taught before they enter adulthood. And, it is important that these lessons are taught in a way that resonates with their circumstances and interests and ties to their college and career exploration goals.
Why Financial Literacy Is Important For All Students
Money touches everything in a person’s life from milestone life events, such as getting married and buying a house, to those everyday mundane decisions, like where to eat and how to spend a Friday night with friends. In order to prepare students for this reality, they must learn how to manage and plan for financial, logistical, and other basic components of post-secondary life. Regardless of a student’s postsecondary path--whether they go directly to a career, vocational schooling, or a 2- or 4-year college--it is vital that they are equipped with financial literacy to help them understand their future budgets, monetary needs, and earning potential.
When students are not equipped with these skills and understanding, their post-secondary plans can get delayed or derailed, and they can suffer far-reaching, long-term negative ramifications. This applies even to those students who graduate on time and matriculate to 4-year colleges or universities who need to understand the basics of loans and student debt repayment in order to make thoughtful decisions about their future plans. This is especially relevant given the current statistics on student loan debt that show 62% of graduates have student loan debt with an average of $37,062 of debt per person. When college graduates have to pay off steep student loan debt after graduating, it interferes with their future stability, limiting or delaying their ability to save for retirement, purchase a home, get married, or start a family.
Alternatively, students who are prepared to handle the financial realities of adulthood productively manage renting an apartment or buying a home, develop good saving patterns, and utilize a credit card responsibly--all leading to a strong financial foundation for their lives.
Financial Literacy Skills
In order to build these life skills and financial management knowledge, students need information, guidance, and explicit practice in planning and carrying out tasks. Financial literacy programming should include:
- Creating and balancing a budget that includes tracking expenses for housing, food, transportation, education, and utilities;
- Making informed decisions as they balance spending versus saving;
- How to plan for unanticipated costs such as health care needs or gaps in employment;
- Benefits and risks of credit and loans;
- How education and career path choices will impact earnings and quality of life.
Resources And Activities To Promote Financial Literacy
There are several high-quality, free resources available to provide students with the kinds of lessons and activities they need in order to prepare and make thoughtful, informed decisions for their futures.
Lessons & Content
- EVERFI: EVERFI is an organization that partners with educators to provide real-world learning for students. Their most popular offerings include courses on Financial Literacy for students across the K-12 spectrum. For high school students, the learning modules introduce students to tools, resources, and processes they will utilize in the real world including filling out a tax form, completing a FAFSA application, and opening a bank account. SchooLinks provides the functionality to connect their platform with Everfi content and allows counselors to track completion of this coursework and to use these metrics to guide other activities for students.
- Pathway to Financial Success In Schools: This is a free, comprehensive financial literacy curriculum from Discover Financial Services and Discovery Education that provides lesson plans, activities, resources, and extensions for family learning and conversations. Some topics even include engaging self-paced modules for students to work on independently online.
- Payback: Next Gen Personal Finance offers this free online game that allows students to practice making decisions on how to spend their money as they attend college. As they play, students are offered decisions at various price points, and when they make a choice, they are provided feedback on that choice.
- Financial Football: Visa offers an NFL-themed game and series of lessons that teach students about budgeting, saving and spending, and how to use credit wisely.
- Hit the Road: A Financial Adventure: The National Credit Union Administration offers this simple, easy-to-use game to help teach students how to manage their budget and make informed financial decisions. In the game, students simulate taking a cross-country trip with three friends. Along the way, they must have enough money for food, gas, and any obstacles that arise.
- The Uber Game: Created by the Financial Times, this interactive game allows students to explore the dynamics of the gig economy. In the game, the player is an Uber driver with a family and must work and manage the family budget. The game provides multiple levels of difficulty for a variety of ages and a range of financial knowledge.
- Game of Life: This interactive resource from SchooLinks helps students see the correlation between their goals and finances. Within the game, students can map out their financial future based on hypothetical life decisions. Students can save, edit, and create multiple scenarios based on different choices to compare how different life choices will impact financial stability.
Videos, Articles, and Resources to Support Learning and Conversations
- Moving Out: Use this video from PBS to teach students about independent living, educational goals, college-related expenses, and budgeting. After viewing, encourage students to create a list of the expenses that Eddie encountered in the video after moving out of his parents’ house. Then, ask students what expenses they would add to that list. Review terms such as tuition, room and board, expenses, budget, loans, and credit cards (including prepaid credit cards). Discuss what Eddie learned as a result of meeting with a financial planner (e.g., budgeting, saving, investing, goal setting).
- My Next Move: This website offers detailed information about a diversity of careers and includes information about the job outlook, what education is required, salaries, and availability based on geographic location. Consider encouraging students to search this site to find potential career paths. Have them answer questions such as “What kind of degree do I need?” or “What will my annual salary be?” to inform their college- and career-decision-making and overall financial planning.
- College Ave Student Loans: To introduce students to college loans, have them view and read this resource. The article and video cover what a student loan is, how student loans work, when to start paying back student loans, and how much will be owed on student loans.
- How Student Loans Affect Your Credit: This article from US News & World Report covers how student loans can positively impact your credit, how student loan debt can harm your credit, and how to successfully manage student loans. It also provides an opportunity to review key financial literacy terminology, especially as it applies to credit and college loans.
Financial Literacy And Student Postsecondary SuccessWhen students can engage in high-quality financial literacy learning, they begin to understand the financial realities that will meet them in their post-secondary life and will be able to make more informed decisions based on those factors. This kind of learning can be done in many ways in high school–a course on its own, embedded into core classes, or as a series of lessons and activities that students engage in at their own pace. Ensuring that students have access to financial literacy learning creates a foundational understanding of the types of financial skills and know-how that is expected knowledge in adulthood, leading to more productive, happier years beyond high school.
Giving students access to financial literacy activities they can do on their own is imperative to their growth on their track to postsecondary success. SchooLinks has games, calculators, goals and more to help students at your district, check it out.