School-Based Financial Education: Overcoming Hurdles

April 13, 2022

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We’ve posed the question, "Is School-Based Financial Education Worth the Effort?" The conclusion was resounding—yes! A mandated financial education course leads to positive outcomes for high school students.

But, what about the feasibility of such a course? There are substantial hurdles to implementation. Let’s examine some of the issues that must be addressed in order for school-based financial education to become a reality for all.

How do you find room for another core subject given all of the requirements for high school graduation? Some districts or schools decided to increase the number of requirements to fit in financial education. For example, total graduation requirements might be increased from 22 credits to 22.5 credits. Others, like Florida, maintained the current number of total required credits but decreased the number of electives. Still others swapped out one requirement for another. North Carolina, for example, chose the third option and made some Social Studies compromises.

How does a mandatory single-semester course affect a student’s schedule? In order to make a single-semester course fit in a student’s schedule, there needs to be an offsetting course in the opposite semester. For example, Virginia, an “A” state according to The Nation's Report Card on Financial Literacy, requires one credit in Economics and Personal Finance. Many students opt for a single-semester economics class paired with a single-semester personal finance class. In Missouri, students can pair a half credit of personal finance with a half credit of health, while in Tennessee the half credit can be paired with 1.5 credits of physical education and wellness.

What happens when an elective is replaced by a mandatory financial education course? Well, to be blunt, that means one less opportunity for a student to pursue a topic of interest. And, we’re sure many will agree that is unfortunate. But, if the choice is between keeping the extra elective at the expense of financial education that impacts students’ financial well-being throughout their lives, these tough, and sometimes unpopular, decisions need to be made. We owe it to students to look out for their best interests.

There are lots of materials out there, but how do teachers vet them? If you’re making the changes necessary to mandate a financial education course, it better be a good program. To help educators, the University of Chicago Financial Education Initiative identified a list of characteristics, supported by academic research, that make a curriculum high quality. The time it takes to choose a high-quality program will pay off in benefits to students for years to come.

What if there aren’t trained teachers? Some educators may need additional training and support when financial education courses become mandated. Take a look at states like Mississippi that are really stepping up to help teachers master the content necessary to teach a personal finance course. By providing additional content-area training and professional development we can create a pool of well-qualified teachers.

How can schools pay for materials? Let’s face it. How we spend our time and money is a good indicator of what we value. If we value financial well-being for our students, then we must allocate the funds necessary to staff a mandated course, provide professional development to those administering it, and equip students and teachers with high-quality materials. And, if the funding isn’t there yet? Grant opportunities can be sought out until then. For instance, UCFEI partners with the Jackson Charitable Foundation to provide the finEDge financial education program to high schools. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education also recently offered competitive grant opportunities for districts to use in their 2022 financial education efforts.

Admittedly, this list of implementation hurdles isn’t exhaustive. Creative solutions, fortunately, aren’t either. States like Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and Virginia, and more recently, Nebraska, Ohio, Rhode Island, Florida, and Georgia have mandated a stand-alone, single-semester financial education course. More states like Michigan, Minnesota, New York, and South Carolina, as well as large public school districts like Montgomery County in Maryland, are carefully considering it.

If you count yourself among the lucky few with a mandated financial education course, we sincerely appreciate the challenges that were navigated to make that happen. If not, we encourage you to consider how to guarantee all high school students have access to this essential curricular content. For additional advocacy support, please visit:

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