As College Debt Rises, So Does Interest in Teaching Financial Literacy

The average student debt in 2017 was about $29,000, according to the Institute for College Access and Success. About a million borrowers default for the first time on their federal student loans each year, a report from the Urban Institute found.

The latest steps taken by various states may help their financial literacy “report cards,” said John Pelletier, director of the Center for Financial Literacy at Champlain College in Vermont. Under Mr. Pelletier’s oversight, the center compiles a periodic report that assigns each state a letter grade, based on its commitment to financial literacy instruction.

Just five states earned an A grade in the center’s most recent analysis, which was issued early last year and included data as of mid-November 2017. But Mr. Pelletier said that he expected several states may improve their grades in his next report, due at the end of this year.

“There’s been movement, for sure,” Mr. Pelletier said, adding that whether all the proposals become law remains to be seen.

Here are some questions and answers about financial literacy efforts:

How can I find out if my school district offers personal finance instruction?

The JumpStart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy, a nonprofit group that promotes financial education in schools, recently started the Groundswell initiative with the aim of increasing financial literacy programs by 25 percent by 2025.

The program’s new website, CheckYourSchool.org, lets users search by their local school district to see what sort of personal finance instruction is offered. The program also provides suggestions for parents and families to push for adoption of new courses.

What topics should a high school personal finance class cover?

Several groups, including the Council for Economic Education, publish standards along with benchmarks for each grade level. The council’s benchmarks advise that by grade 12, for instance, students should be able to calculate how much a 10-year-old would need to save today to pay one year of college tuition eight years in the future.

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