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High Schools Fail at Teaching Personal Finance, Millennials Say

By Daniel B. Kline – Updated Apr 26, 2019 at 4:08PM

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A majority of today's young adults say that their educations were too heavy on algebra and chemistry, too light on things like stock market basics and how to file your taxes.

High schools don't teach algebra and geometry because they believe most students will end up in math-driven fields. Rather, those subjects are on the curriculum because they give teenagers different ways to think, and help them develop and hone their problem-solving skills.

Similar arguments can be made for chemistry or other science courses. Only a small fraction of young people will wind up in STEM careers -- they make up about 13% of today's jobs -- and it can be difficult to connect what those courses teach to everyday life. Yet at their core, science classes help students develop an understanding of how the real world works.

However, when it comes to connecting their educations to the real world, what young people feel they aren't getting enough of are practical life skills.

In a survey of 1,000 millennials who attended public high schools, algebra (25.2%), geometry (24.9%), and chemistry (24.8%) were pointed to as the courses that have proven least valuable to them in their personal lives and careers. But one thing they overwhelmingly supported was the idea that personal finance should be taught in high school, according to the report from Nitro.

Hands are raised in front of a blackboard.

Students want to learn more about personal finance. Image source: Getty Images.

Millennials want personal finance classes

Learning the things high schools consider valuable will help students get into good colleges, which in turn (one hopes) will help them land good jobs. After that, however, those young adults may find themselves in trouble because they were never taught how to handle their personal finances. In fact, might start off their adult lives behind the eight-ball because of heavy student loans they took out without truly understanding the impact that debt would have on their post-college years.

And they are at least aware of what they haven't been taught: 84% of respondents agreed that high school didn't prepare them to handle their personal finances. About three quarters said they believe a personal finance class should be mandatory in high school, while 68.5% felt the same way about "stock market basics," and 57.7% want "filing taxes" on the curriculum. Banking, handling student loan debt, and credit were also named as subjects that should be required by at least half of the survey respondents.

What can you do?

While young adults can look back and recognize that their formal education had some serious holes, that doesn't mean those gaps can't be filled elsewhere. Parents can certainly help, either by teaching their children about personal finance at home, or exposing them to extracurricular education in that area.

And, of course, adults can also lobby for changes in the education system. That may not be a fast process, but just because many school systems haven't mandated classes on personal finance subjects doesn't mean they can't be convinced to add them.

In the meantime, adults should start educating their kids on personal finance topics early. That can be as simple as teaching your child about the consequences of spending money -- if they buy one thing with their allowance now, it may mean not having enough to purchase whatever they wants next. Explain the basics of how the family finances work -- show them the differences in how a car loan and a mortgage work, or graph out what happens when you carry a balance on a credit card.

Schools may be failing a lot of young people in this area, but the classroom isn't the only place we can get educated, and credible personal finance lessons are easy to find. So if you're feeling those gaps in your knowledge, or seeing them in your children's education, get started filling them now -- because life is guaranteed to hand you new pop quizzes on your money all the time.

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