Financial Literacy Education in Vermont High Schools

The High School Survey


A survey of Vermont high school administrators, conducted by Champlain College's Center for Financial Literacy earlier this year, found that most high school seniors are ill equipped to handle their personal finance needs after they graduate.

"School administrators surveyed indicated that a small minority of high school graduates are competent or even assessed on basic financial literacy standards," explained John Pelletier, director of the Center for Financial Literacy. "Personal finance topics are generally covered in electives and therefore many students never receive training on these topics in middle or high school."

"The teaching of personal finance is often an afterthought because it is not a subject tested under the No Child Left Behind law. Twenty-six states, including Vermont, have no K-12 financial literacy requirements. Only four states mandate a personal finance course in high school." Pelletier said.

The survey also notes that there is little, if any, professional development curriculum training available on the subject of budgeting, handling money or credit for high school teachers. "The survey also found that 79 percent of administrators agreed that financial literacy should be a high school graduation requirement," Pelletier said.

The results were released in mid-June at the Vermont Financial Literacy Summit held at Champlain College. More than 150 educators, public policy experts, school administrators and business and non-profit leaders, attended the day-long conference to learn more about the need and to begin discussions on how to improve personal finance knowledge for students K-12 and beyond.

Pelletier said the survey shows there is little consistency to how financial topics are being taught, though it usually is found in elective personal finance courses or family and consumer science courses. Only 70 percent of high schools indicated they offered a personal finance course. Of those respondents, only 11 percent of those high schools required taking a personal finance course as a graduation requirement.

"Working together, we are tapping into the collective wisdom of everyone here for ideas on how to best bring personal finance education into our schools, colleges and workplaces in effective and efficient ways that will directly benefit Vermont's economic vitality. And when we do that, we'll have a model that can be shared with other states and communities across the nation," Pelletier explained at the Summit. "We want to develop a task force to prioritize ideas to improve financial literacy education of the entire Vermont population: K-12 students, college students and adults," he said.

The Center for Financial Literacy at Champlain College will tackle those issues using a multi-pronged educational approach, including a summer teacher institute Aug. 1-5, sponsored by Merchants Bank, offering 26 Vermont teachers a five-day education program designed to give teachers the confidence, skills and curriculum tools to successfully teach personal finance in the classroom. The institute was quickly filled for the 2011 session with a waiting list for the 2012 offering.

Ted Beck, president of the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE) and a member of President Obama's Advisory Council on Financial Capability, told participants at the Financial Literacy Summit that students in their early 20s who have strong financial skills in the area of budgeting, using credit, investing and planning for retirement often trace their abilities back to three main things:

  • Growing up in families who talk about money practices.
  • Education that covered the necessary skills in middle and high school and college.
  • And having a part-time job as a teen-ager or student in college.

He urged those in the room to:

  • talk to their kids about money
  • support school programs that teach budgeting
  • credit and investment planning
  • encourage employers to bring financial education opportunities into the adult workplace

"Find a job for a kid that gives them productive work experience," he urged. "If there is a positive outcome we can realize from the Great Recession, it would be to become a financially literate nation," said Pelletier. "If we do not, history will mock us and force our children and grandchildren to live through another financial and economic crisis. Let's end this destructive cycle by creating a Vermont Strategic Plan for Financial Literacy."