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A Look into Student Knowledge of Personal Finance

How Much Do Students Know?

Nina Flusberg

Did you know that across America, the average amount of college debt among students is over $32,000? Did you realize that 29% of Americans are not adequately prepared financially for retirement? Were you aware that 80% of Americans have some sort of consumer debt? Picture yourself walking down the street: statistically, eight out of the ten first people you see are in debt. Chances are that you will be, too.

Given this not-so-pretty picture, it would seem beneficial for everyone to receive a better personal finance education. According to CreditKarma, an American multinational personal finance company, two in five American adults say that they had to teach themselves about personal finance. How does this trend compare to AJA students’ knowledge? 

In a Palette survey sent out to AJA high school students, 10% to 20% of the 37 respondents thought they have a pretty good understanding of personal finance topics such as student loans and debt, credit card debt, mortgages, taxes, investments, compound interest, and the stock market. However, the other 80% rated their financial literacy as little to nothing. According to High School General Studies Instructional Team Leader Mr. Joel Rojek, personal finance is “something that’s so [valuable],” but most people only realize its importance once they have a credit card or when they have to pay the rent. Wouldn’t it be better if students had a greater understanding of these topics before they actually deal with them?

“I think most people realize they’d like to know more about it when they have a credit card or when they have to pay the rent.”

After taking the survey and rating their knowledge about personal finance topics, many of the students acknowledged that they would benefit from learning about them. With around 91% of surveyed students wishing for better education in personal finance, it is evident that there is significant interest in adding financial topics to the curriculum. 

Survey respondents were mixed in regards to how the school could implement financial education. Almost 70% of students suggested that a formal class would be the best method for learning about personal finance at school. On the other hand, 28% of surveyed students expressed interest in a teacher-run elective. Junior Margalit Lytton said, “I think it would be beneficial for the school to have an optional financial literacy class/elective, but I don’t think it should necessarily be mandatory.” The remaining 3% voiced that they would rather learn through a student-run club. 

In order for the administration to offer a year-long financial literacy class, which would satisfy the majority of students, it needs to have room in the curriculum. There is a limited number of courses that can be offered, and the school has to prioritize state requirements when deciding which classes can be offered. “I would love it if we could offer personal finance as a math credit,” Mr. Rojek said. However, “We’re bound by the state of Georgia, which just doesn’t allow for that to count as a math credit.” Without personal finance counting for a core credit, “it makes it tougher to make it a class that runs throughout the year… When we fill our schedule, we have to prioritize [which courses students] need to get a diploma and graduate.” 

“Sometimes high school students don’t know they’d benefit from knowing about it because it’s just not on their radar.”

Fortunately, the school did not use this as an excuse to completely disregard having any sort of financial learning. In previous years, when AJA had Minimester (a week-long course of extracurricular subjects taught by AJA staff), it was common to have some sort of personal finance course. Now that the school does not hold a Minimester week anymore, personal finance lessons had to find a new home. 

“We’re hoping to find a [place] for some personal finance [lessons] in Skills Lab,” Mr. Rojek said. Skills Lab is a new one period per week course that focuses on training students in topics that the school deems valuable but are not part of the regular curriculum. Earlier this year, it was mostly dedicated to ExQ programming, but it has branched out more as of late. 

“We’ve got some initial financial sessions that we’ve got scheduled for [this school year],” he said, explaining, “It probably makes sense for it to be geared more towards upperclassmen sessions than underclassmen.” As of January, the Senior and Junior classes have received a 45 minute session with Davi Kutner, a parent and wealth advisor at Aprio in Atlanta. He gave a brief overview of several finance-related subjects to students and answered some questions at the end. Jodi Wittenberg also ran a session for the Junior class that covered starting a business, running a budget/payroll, and other financial issues, too. Although there are future finance sessions planned for Skills Lab, it is difficult to determine their effectiveness since there have only been a few so far. In addition, to fill the gaps in their knowledge, some students have taken matters into their own hands and found other approaches.

Junior Ella Goldstein took a week-long personal finance course over the summer.  Wealthy Habits, the financial literacy program she participated in, claim on their website that “the subject of personal finance is intimidating to most, but is something we all need to understand in order to have a comfortable life.” They introduce their campers to essential money practices through games and engaging discussions. “They made [finance] relevant to my life which is important because being [financially] literate could help me in my current life, and not just in the future,” Ella said. “Because the class was targeted to people my age, I was able to engage more and enjoy learning about financial literacy in a fun but also formal setting.”     

Other students seem to be gaining literacy in finance through personal research or talking to friends or family. Freshman Adiel Livnat mentioned that his dad educates him on financial topics, specifically the stock market, while Junior Daniel Gadelov said he learns through videos that give basics which then lead him to go into detail.

These high school students seem to have taken their personal finance education into their own hands, but others have not. Some may not even see it as something important enough to do outside of school learning. As Mr. Rojek phrased it, “Sometimes high school students don’t know they’d benefit from knowing about it because it’s just not on their radar.”He said, “We want to find ways to do even better, and some of that is just with getting feedback from student interests.” Mr. Rojek explained that there has been interest, but “it’s not been something where I feel like there [have] been dozens of people making requests.” Yet, the survey results show that the majority of students think it would be beneficial to the students if AJA taught more about these topics. Hopefully, students will realize that financial literacy is not just something that they could learn but something that they should learn. The earlier you learn it, the better you will be positioned in the future.

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