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Create Personal Finance Courses That Stick

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TLDR: As of December 2023, half of states have committed to ensuring that high school students receive education on personal finance before graduating, up from just eight in 2021. Now comes the hard part: implementation. In states that passed this legislation only recently, students aren’t likely to see personal finance courses on their schedules for a few years, as states and districts create standards and model lessons. Most states implementing personal finance as a graduation requirement mandate a single stand-alone, semester-long course. Experts advise more. Personal finance education is a cumulative process, believes John Pelletier, the director of the Center for Financial Literacy at Champlain College and the author of an annual report on the topic. Pelletier encourages schools to teach personal finance in prekindergarten through 8th grade, and particularly in the latter half of high school. “Students in those grades are poised to enter college, the workforce, or the military, and will quickly face a host of complicated financial decisions,” he writes in the report. Other advocates agree that the single course requirement should be just the beginning. “Be careful not to just check the box. Lean into it, figure out how you can optimize it beyond just the requirement,” advised Bill Parker, the director, Tennessee Financial Literacy Commission, within the Tennessee Department of Treasury. While advocates for personal finance education are eager to see related curriculum implemented in schools, they caution school systems to take the time necessary to develop effective courses. “Having a long enough horizon to make sure teachers and schools are able to prepare to institute this effectively is important,” Parker said. “Four years is probably a good window.” Grants and other resources, many of them free of charge to educators, can support curriculum development and teacher training, say experts. Some states have partnered with the Council for Economic Education to secure grant funds for teacher professional development in financial literacy, which typically run between $200 and $600 per teacher. As with any subject, students are more likely to pay attention and absorb the content if it’s engaging. Online games, such as those created by Next Gen Personal Finance for high school students, can be part of an effective strategy.

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