Most Adults Think High School Students Should Take Personal Finance Course to Graduate

The current economy shows the importance of financial literacy.


The bad news is that America is experiencing economic turbulence after the Covid pandemic. Since 2021, we have experienced high inflation rates, and many worry that a recession is imminent. A silver lining of this rough time is that most Americans want to get serious about financial literacy. New survey data shows that 88 percent of U.S. adults want states to require high school students to complete a personal financial literacy class, with almost as many wishing that such a course had been required when they were in high school. Today, only about a dozen states require current or incoming high school students to complete a standalone class in financial literacy, though the number is slowly increasing.

What Adults Wish They Had Learned About Money

By now, it’s common for adults to bemoan that much real-world knowledge and skills are not taught in high school. Over the past few generations, high schools have moved toward college prep and focused on academic skills. One thing that has largely been left up to families is financial literacy. Along with vehicle maintenance, cooking, and healthy relationships, knowledge of finances has largely been considered the role of parents to teach. Many point out that not all parents are well-equipped to teach their children the right things about the topics above. Many are realizing that high schools should re-incorporate real-world skills into their curricula.

Online, adults have lamented what financial knowledge and skills they did not learn in high school. From 401(k)s to student loans to budgeting and credit cards, adults told Buzzfeed that they graduated from high school without knowing the basics. Others wished that they had learned about recognizing financial scams, which is something that would only be available in a standalone financial literacy class as opposed to a single unit in an Economics class. Looking back, some adults complained that those on the “college track” actually received less financial education than those who planned to go to work as soon as they graduated from high school.

A common source of confusion was all the specific vocabulary related to insurance, which many did not understand before picking insurance plans. Other sources of confusion were taxes and investing, which also had complex vocabulary not often used in everyday conversation. On sites like Reddit, adults opined that they wished they had gotten more hands-on simulations in investing and saving during high school. Others wished they had been told the importance of “paying themselves first” by setting aside savings from each paycheck rather than trying to save whatever was left over at the end of the month.

Much of what adults say they wish they had learned about finances in high school is too complex and in-depth for a single unit as part of an Economics or Home Economics class. Some concepts take time to illustrate, such as simulating investing in the stock market. Students need to see how share prices can rise and fall over several weeks. Similarly, budgeting can change over weeks as students learn to substitute some goods and services for others to spend less money. Rushing these lessons into single days can make them less effective. Dynamic lessons that can be conducted over weeks are more engaging than simpler lessons that are static and expose students to information only once.

About the Author

Owen Rust

Owen Rust teaches AP Economics and AP Government in Texas, and has also taught Personal Financial Literacy, which Texas high schools must now offer! He has a Master's degree in Finance and Economics from West Texas A&M University and is passionate about young people learning how to take charge of their financial and investing goals. Outside of teaching, Owen is also a writer who writes about politics, government, education, economics, and finance and investing.

Last updated on: July 8, 2024