Making Financial Education Sustainable

March 19, 2018

School-based financial education needs a new model

Part of our charge at the UChicago Financial Education Initiative is to move the field of financial education forward. In order to figure out where gaps exist and where the Initiative could be most helpful, we have studied the field closely. We have come to believe that in order for financial education to be effective, we, as a field, must push for single-semester implementation of financial education.

What is single-semester implementation?

The single-semester model put financial education in-school, ideally as a stand-alone course. It is more robust than piecemeal or one-off approaches to financial education, offering 60 hours of personal finance instruction, plus homework and informal assessments. Ultimately, it is a more consistent and cohesive approach to financial education.

Benefits, challenges, and opportunities of this model

There are many benefits to the single-semester model. For one, it expands access financial education--no longer is financial education limited to students who are available before or after school. It also also facilitates more meaningful assessment opportunities and signals the importance of personal finance to students.

There are some challenges, though. For many schools, there simply isn’t much room in the school day to offer a dedicated personal finance course. The model also requires extensive training for teachers, as it is teachers who provide the instruction.

But while these challenges exist, there are also some windows of opportunity. For example, many state and local mandates require that students take personal finance. As a field, we should push for a rigorous implementation of these standards. We can help districts better evaluate curricula to ensure that students are receiving high-quality and balanced financial education. Demand for financial education is also on our side, with almost 50% of high school seniors say they wish they had learned personal finance in school (Discover, 2014). Research also suggests that an in-school, single semester model has the most benefit for students.

To put it simply: if we as a field believe that financial education is valuable and essential for high school students, then we should implement for full impact.

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