By Beniamino Nardin, Harwood correspondent
A 2014 study conducted by the Investor Education Foundation found only 24% of millennials could answer four out of five questions in a financial literacy quiz correctly, compared to 55% of those born from 1928 to 1945. Tara Kelley, a math teacher at Harwood Union High School, wants to combat this dwindling financial literacy by making her personal finance course a graduation requirement at Harwood. A 2016 survey by the Bank of America found that 31% of young Americans aged 18 to 26 agreed that their high school education provided them with sufficient skills for good financial habits.
Personal finance is “a really broad term that encompasses all of the decisions that you’re going to need to make in your financial future,” Kelley said. “It includes credit, decisions on going to college, how to buy a car… It’s all about learning the terms and things that are going to help you be successful.”
MORE THAN MATH
Personal finance is a math course, but it covers more than just math. “The connections to math are incredible and a really useful tool,” Kelley said. “I think [personal finance] is the answer to a lot of students’ questions of ‘How am I going to use this math in the real world?’ It’s important because it’s going to touch [everyone’s] lives. There’s not a person who isn’t going to have to make financial decisions, and likely big [ones]… Students in high school are at the perfect age to learn it because they haven’t messed up their credit yet. They haven’t taken on enormous amounts of debt.” Learning personal finance in high school can show that “you can build this up in a positive way instead of having to dig yourself out of a hole later.” In states where financial literacy education is mandated, studies have found that young adults’ default rates were reduced and credit scores improved.
Some students at Harwood worry that mandating personal finance would reduce the excitement and commitment around the course because they would be “forced” to take the class. Other students who have taken or are currently taking the class disagree. They claim that personal finance is a crucial course and prepares them for a life of independence and confidence in financial literacy.
NOT YET SETTLED
How personal finance would be mandated as a graduation requirement is not yet settled. “I don’t think we’re far enough down the road to see those decisions [yet],” Kelley said. She’d like to see personal finance be a graduation requirement as it would make the course more equitable and accessible to all students and because she knows how valuable the material is for them. Students wouldn’t need to sacrifice taking personal finance for another course because it would be embedded in the required curriculum. “A lot of conversations need to happen about if it’s the right fit for our school. For all those details it needs to be a community decision.”
Education in personal finance gives students the skills, conviction and knowledge to maneuver the world beyond high school. “When I talk to other adults about what I teach, their reaction is almost always ‘I wish I had that class!’” Kelley said. “I think it would be a really beautiful thing if we could have alumni who don’t say that, who instead say ‘I had that cl