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  • Writer's pictureMelody Bell

You’ve Passed a Mandate for a Personal Finance Course: Now What?

There has been a huge increase in the number of states requiring high school students to take a stand-alone personal finance course before graduating. What do I mean by huge increase? In 2020, there were just eight states that required a stand-alone personal finance course. Now there are 25 states that have passed a personal finance course mandate.

Those of us who have been following this know this increase is in large part the result of the passion and hard work of Tim Ranzetta and his team at Next Gen Personal Finance. Next Gen has a live dashboard tracking states as they are adopting and implementing personal finance education in high schools. Next Gen also provides advocacy toolkits and has a live bill tracker. As of the time of this blog, there are 35 bills active in 15 states. 

Of the 25 states that have passed the mandate, 17 are in the process of implementing it. This post is going to share some of the pitfalls experienced by states when implementing a personal finance course requirement and provide recommendations for a successful implementation. 

Pitfalls Experienced by Other States

Unfunded Mandate

One of the biggest mistakes made by states when passing a personal finance course requirement is not funding it. In some states, the only way they could get the bill passed was to not tie a fiscal, or funding, to it. Unfortunately, once this bill has passed with no funding, there is little to be done at the state level and the requirement gets implemented without funding or by obtaining funds elsewhere.   

Not Providing Enough Structure

Some of these bills are too vague and what ends up being implemented may be far from the original vision of the requirement. Outside of these 25 states that require a stand-alone course, there are several other states that “require” personal finance, but it may be just a few standards within another course, like math or economics, or some states require it to just be offered (not taken). Many of those states are included in the 15 that have pending legislation.

Other components that have been lacking from mandates that are too vague are: 

  • Specifying the length of the course,

  • Specifying what is to be taught and by whom, and

  • Stating what year the students are to take the course. 

Starting From Scratch

States may feel the need to start from scratch when implementing a required course because they do not know of the resources and structures already in place or feel the need to tailor it to their community. I think the former is more likely the reason. This is relatively new territory and there may be a feeling that this has to be built from the ground up because it is new, but there are resources that can help states. 

Not Involving and Preparing Educators

Involving and preparing educators during the implementation process is a huge mistake. High school educators should be involved throughout the entire process. Educators from multiple disciplines like economics, math, and career & technical education can provide a lot of value during this process because they are going to be the ones that implement it. 

Establish a Strong Structure

Clearly Defining the Course

How much structure can be required varies from state to state. Some states have decentralized education systems, which means there are limits to how much bureaucratic authority the state has over districts and schools. Since the adoption of personal finance as a course requirement is very quickly being adopted, it can be hard to tell what the “best practices” are. The more structure that can be established for the course requirement, the more consistency there will be, which then may lead to being able to measure the impact of these course requirements on one’s long-term financial well-being. When defining what the personal finance course will be, the state’s Department of Education should: 

  • Develop the course with evaluation top of mind. Before determining how you are going to get somewhere, you first need to determine where you want to end up. Develop clear success measures and systems for how you will measure success. 

  • Clearly outline the length of the course. The trend is leaning towards a semester-long course purely devoted to personal finance. Some states are seeing a growing need to provide our students with life skills, outside of reading, writing, and arithmetic and are dedicating more towards additional life skills (reminds me of what we formerly called home economics). The important part when including additional life skills is not to dilute the personal finance portion.  

  • Make the course mandatory. Many states are allowing for an “opt-out” or “test out” of the course requirement. The mandate was put in place because we know it is important, so why would we allow students to opt-out?

  • Require the course early on in high school. Teens are facing decisions that involve money early on.

The Course Needs a Home

Personal finance has had a hard time finding a home. Personal finance has tended to get lumped in with economics, yet my experience has found economics teachers are not usually that jazzed about teaching personal finance. My years of experience have found the teachers who tend to be most excited about teaching personal finance are the business teachers. Depending on where personal finance “lives” may also affect who can teach the course. 

Strong Standards

Why start from scratch establishing education standards when there are some great national organizations that have been doing this for years? I have been part of committees setting standards and many times these committees are tasked with setting standards for multiple subjects and age groups. 

The Council for Economic Education (CEE) and the National Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy (Jump$tart) first developed K-12 personal finance education standards in 2013 and 2015 respectively. In 2021, CEE and Jump$tart joined forces and published the most recent National Standards for Financial Education in 2021. 

Adopting national standards does not mean you should not add your own state-specific touch to them. Items that a state may want to add to their personal finance education standards include:

  • State run savings plans, like 529, ABLE, or Secure Choice, 

  • State specific financial assistance programs, and 

  • A history of economic oppression in the state. 

Compile Resources

Don’t purchase personal finance textbooks. These books will quickly become obsolete. There are a lot of existing personal finance curricula publicly available, and FREE. There should be no reason for a state to feel they need to purchase personal finance curriculum when there is a multitude of high-quality content available for free. 

There can be too much of a good thing. There is a multitude of content, but that does not mean we need to throw it all at educators. Develop a rubric to measure the content and choose only the top resources to share with educators. Include both synchronous and asynchronous content. 

Train Educators

As with K-12, the amount of personal finance taught at the post-secondary education level is very low. Finance majors are not likely to be required to take consumer finance courses, but instead take corporate finance courses. Research has shown that many educators do not feel comfortable with money concepts and many times this is because they do not feel, like most adults, they were not provided the necessary education to manage their own finances. 

A state should build professional development opportunities into the implementation of a personal finance course. In addition to providing skills and resources for teaching personal finance, educators should be provided with education that increases their financial literacy. 

Involve the Community

I have always believed educating our public on money management is a community issue. The burden should not be held by educators alone to educate our next generations about personal finance. There are many financial services companies that are willing to partner in delivering personal finance education. Groups like Financial Beginnings and Junior Achievement, not only have a curriculum, but also have a network of volunteers, many of whom work in the financial services industry, and can arrange for speakers to come into the classroom. 

We Can Help

If you're interested in exploring how North Starr Consulting can further support your financial education initiatives, we invite you to get in touch with our team of skilled experts in personal finance and nonprofits. At North Starr Consulting, we understand that every business and educational institution is unique, which is why we offer customized education and business consulting services tailored to your specific needs and goals.

With a team of experts in financial education and nonprofit strategy, we're here to help you reach your full potential. Contact us today to start a conversation about how we can collaborate to enhance your financial education initiatives and achieve your goals.

North Starr Consulting

Managing Director


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