The Need for Personal Finance

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“I feel like it would help me be more prepared in the real world.” – Laney Reed (‘18)

“I think we should have [Home Economics] because it teaches us important life skills that we wouldn’t otherwise learn in normal classes. Myself included, I think most people at this school don’t know how to pay a bill, pay taxes, and that kind of thing.” – Caroline Baber (‘18)

“When I did it it was very focused on cooking and sewing. The cooking part was useful, but I think it should be more focused towards finance.” – Amy Kaplan (‘18)

These students are talking about Home Economics, now often called “Family and Consumer Sciences” (FCS), a part of the curriculum at other schools, both public and private, and their responses all echo a sense of need for non-academic skills. Most students I talked, even those who have taken some form of FCS, thought that they need to learn more skills to help them develop their independence and be ready for later life.

Traditionally, FCS covered a narrow sector of subjects centered around cooking and sewing. Nowadays, FCS covers a broad spectrum of topics adapted to modern issues, including cooking and nutrition, sanitation, parenting, conflict resolution, hospitality, textiles and apparel, and sometimes STEAM (science, technology, engineering, and math). Additionally, students sometimes learn personal finance and entrepreneurial skills, and courses are taught in both middle and high schools. While Collegiate students are well-versed in some of these skills, such as nutrition and conflict resolution (which problem-based learning often addresses), other topics we are less knowledgeable in. The particular area that I find most important for us to learn is personal finance. This includes budgeting, saving, paying bills, and any other necessary financial management skills.

From my experiences in AP Micro and Macroeconomics, these classes teach about several factors of the economy, but they are mostly focused on businesses and national economics, rather than what’s specific to individuals or families. While I think it would be difficult to incorporate personal skills into Micro or Macroeconomics because of the need to get through specific material before the AP, there could definitely be a new class created to teach these skills, similar to how there are Health and Wellness classes that teach necessary facts and skills that fall outside the traditional five core academic areas (English, history, foreign language, math, and science). So why don’t we have FCS?

The most likely answer would be scheduling. AP courses require a certain amount of time for students to aptly learn the material, so many AP teachers would not like for students’ schedules to be overfilled with other classes, reducing their teaching time. However, isn’t learning life skills just as important, or perhaps even more important, than learning sometimes obscure topics in academic classes? However, the class wouldn’t need to be drawn out to be able to cover basic financial information. It could be put into a shorter class period, be only a semester long, or even incorporated into Health and Wellness classes, therefore not taking up much time. The school could also make use of time already set aside for non-academic purposes, such as clubs, advisory, or even a retreat day. Alternatively, many schools incorporate FCS classes into Middle School, where there is no pressure to get through AP course curriculum. Around five million students across the United States take FCS each year, according to the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences.

In Virginia public schools, one credit of Economics and Personal Finance is required. These courses teach personal basic business skills. There is an additional program which students can take, instead of a fine art or foreign language, called Career and Technical Education, where students learn specific skills to prepare them for future employment. There is a correlation between CTE and increased high school graduation rate, according to the Association for Career and Technical Education, with CTE students graduating at a rate of 90%, whereas non-CTE students graduate at around 83% of the time. In addition, CTE students generally have higher quality jobs and earn higher pay.

While Virginia requires this course, many students across the United States are not required to take FCS courses or can take an alternative class, such as art, instead. A recent study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that “18% of American students couldn’t perform basic financial literacy tasks,” a significantly higher number than the other 17 countries studied. The skills they examined include the ability to “recognize the difference between needs and wants, make simple decisions on everyday spending and recognize the purpose of everyday financial documents such as an invoice.” I don’t feel confident in my skills in these areas, so I, and perhaps some of my classmates at Collegiate, might fall into that 18%. 

Since forms of FCS classes have clear benefits, students at Collegiate should be required (or at a minimum have the option) to learn some of these necessary skills, particularly revolving around financial information, to remain knowledgeable in non-academic areas throughout our lives.

Featured image courtesy of David Goehring via Flickr.

About the author

Frances is a junior at Collegiate School.