The Nevada state legislature is considering a bill requiring high school students to complete a one-semester Personal Financial Literacy class to graduate. Assembly Bill (AB) 274 is intended to boost students’ financial literacy and set them up for lifelong stability. Fortunately, AB 274 has lots of co-sponsors and will be heard by the Assembly Education committee on March 23. The bill is the brainchild of freshman representative Duy Nguyen, who campaigned on the issue. Financial literacy is a point of passion for Nguyen, who has teenage kids. While he has been trying to teach them financial literacy at home, he wants to ensure that they are also getting the knowledge at school.
Some personal finance was actually taught in previous decades as part of Home Economics (“Home Ec”) classes, but many schools have dropped this course in favor of more “college-track” curriculum. Some trace the erosion of Home Ec in high schools back to the Sputnik Crisis of 1957, when the Soviet Union’s initial victory in the Space Race, achieved by orbiting the first satellite, resulted in many Americans criticizing public high schools as not sufficiently rigorous in math and science education. Between 2003 and 2021, there was a 38 percent decline in the number of students still taking Home Ec.
Modernizing “Home Ec” May Help Bring Back Finance Skills
Home Ec was seen as not academically rigorous enough in many high schools focused on preparing graduates for college. In recent years, however, the needle has started to shift away from a singular goal of putting all high school graduates directly into college. More schools are taking the traditional skills from Home Ec and teaching them with greater academic rigor as career-oriented courses. For example, high school students can now earn industry certifications in food handling and preparation in Culinary Arts programs, helping them land jobs in the restaurant industry.
Budgeting, a major component of personal finance, was a part of Home Ec. Now, budgeting is one of several key units in Personal Financial Literacy. In fact, Beth Kobliner has traced the direct link between the Home Ec courses of yesteryear and the increasing demand for Personal Financial Literacy today. In addition to wanting more “college readiness” courses in the curriculum, many high schools also dropped Home Ec after the 1960s because of sexist connotations with the course. Up until the early 1970s, Home Ec was often automatically given to only female students.
Now, fortunately, many of Home Ec’s invaluable skills have been repackaged for both genders to learn. Financial literacy is necessary for both men and women, as is basic knowledge about home maintenance, shopping and comparing prices, and managing interpersonal relations. In fact, the renewed popularity in real-life skills, often referred to as “adulting,” has led to the rise of Life101 (and related) micro-classes that are often geared toward high school juniors and seniors. These micro-classes are often given in the last three weeks of the school year, after state-required and AP testing are finished.
While helpful, Life101 classes are not enough to prepare today’s youth for the financial rigors of the real world. Hopefully, Mr. Nguyen’s bill sails through the Nevada legislature and ensures that some of the skills lost by the demise of Home Ec are formally taught to Nevada high schoolers again. Indeed, it would be worthwhile for Personal Financial Literacy to be a fall semester course and a Life101 class covering additional real-world skills to be a spring semester course for all high school seniors.