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One big wake-up call from the recent economic downturn is that the literacy rate in this country is at absolute crisis levels. Financial literacy, that is.

Millions of high school, college, even graduate level students leave their alma maters every year completely unable to decipher basic financial information. Whether it is how a mortgage works, the true cost of carrying a credit card balance or the importance of maintaining a high credit score, even the extremely well educated are often completely in the dark.

I’ve talked to many baby boomers recently who are concerned, some downright guilty, about the societal legacy they are leaving their children and grandchildren when it comes to living within one’s means. If we really want to try and right the ship, we should use this teachable moment, to use a popular phrase of late, to show today’s students the importance of financial literacy.

Fundamental finance should be required at the high school level, or, at the very least, as part of a balanced college curriculum. In my undergraduate studies, I took such courses as Geology of U.S. National Parks (aka Rocks for Jocks), History of Western Art – Prehistoric to Gothic, Beginning Photography and even Horseback Riding. I registered for the latter two only because Wine Tasting 101 and a class actually entitled “The Meaning of Leisure” were already full. While I understand, to a point, the role these courses play in shaping critical thinking and producing well rounded alumni, I do not think it will do too much damage to the liberal arts model to require students take a 1 or 2 hour class in basic personal finance.

More and more, we are starting to see positive change. Several local high schools are starting some kind of program in financial education. Until it becomes more mainstream, a tip of the cap to the American Institute of Certified Professional Accountants. They have created two websites worth a look for anyone wanting to learn about financial issues. The first, https://www.feedthepig.org/ includes great tips for how to save for all age groups and a link to a site especially made for young children. The second, https://www.360financialliteracy.org/ is a database of invaluable information, broken down by life stages.

What can you do? If you have the opportunity, let your local representatives, your high school or college alumni associations know that you support financial education as a core educational component of future generations. While we would be foolish to think we can stop the cycle of fear and greed that drives our economy, perhaps with a little basic education, those cycles do not have to be so drastic.

By Chip Workman