New Survey Data: Teens Want More Financial Literacy Education to Make Higher Education Decisions

Rising college costs mean students feel pressure to know budgeting.


Although many people criticize the younger generation for being frivolous and naive, survey data show today’s youth to be pragmatic when learning about finances. Junior Achievement and Citizens surveyed a thousand American teenagers and discovered that a majority wanted more financial literacy education. Specifically, 63 percent of polled teens wanted to take a seminar or class on financial aid and paying for college. This is unsurprising given that 70 percent of teens were concerned about the cost of higher education, up from 61 percent only a year earlier.

The high inflation rate over the past few years has been painful to most Americans, but a silver lining is that it has reinforced among young people the need to make careful financial choices. This has boosted a desire for financial literacy education. Although eighteen states have or will soon require high school students to pass a one-semester personal financial literacy (PFL) class to graduate, all high school students should take such a class to be better prepared for the financial rigors of life after graduation.

Rising College Costs Leading More Youth to Explore Other Options

The survey found that less than half of teenagers felt that a four-year college degree was necessary for a good job, with 76 percent believing that a two-year degree or certification was sufficient. Hastened by the Covid pandemic in 2020, recent changes in the higher education landscape have affected the goals and plans of many high school students. A majority of polled students are concerned about the cost of college, up eight percentage points from a year ago, and half are worried about debt. A quarter are now unsure that higher education is financially worth it.

College being expensive is certainly not breaking news, but public pressure may be helping improve affordability. Federal laws now require public colleges and universities to post “net price calculators” that let prospective students and their families compare the tuition and room-and-board costs at different institutions. However, solid financial literacy education may be necessary for students to get the best use of these tools. Twenty years ago, middle-class students and their families may have had more financial “wiggle room, ” making less rigorous number-crunching and budgeting acceptable. Today, the combination of higher costs and college graduates’ wages not keeping up with inflation makes it imperative to budget carefully and compare all post-high school options.

Giving today’s high school students the tools necessary to plan and budget their post-graduation futures benefits the higher education landscape and society. More students may choose to continue their education if they feel confident that they understand the costs and how to manage them. Having fewer college graduates mired in excessive debt, potentially influenced by insufficient budgeting, benefits society when these graduates can afford to invest and consume. When colleges and universities see that students and their families are carefully weighing financial options, they will be incentivized to price their tuition more competitively, which benefits everyone.

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: May 1, 2023