College Prep: Preparing Your Children for Their Financial Future

preparing students for college finances

 

 

Dear Dad and Moms,

 

College students really do not know what they are doing when it comes to their money. They worry about student loans and debt but don’t have a clue about what they might earn when they graduate, credit reports, or how to manage their money during the semester (let alone after college graduation). Some of them are going to take a college finance class and learn something, but others will not. It’s so easy to dig yourself into a financial pit these days, and it is very hard to get out of that place when the job market is brutally tight.

 

I’m not sure why parents as a whole are failing at this point, but I do have some ideas. Maybe parents just have not thought about the need to pass on personal finance skills. I think this is entirely possible because I can tell you that if anyone sat down and talked to me about managing my money or anything related to personal finance that I don’t remember. In college, I had money I earned during the summer and saved, but I never thought about a budget. I never sat down and calculated my income and expected expenses after graduation. Life skills that were important: making mac and cheese, doing laundry, putting transmission fluid in my car so it would run. Life skills that were not important: budgeting. So, maybe you aren’t thinking about it because you had a similar experience where you figured out the whole money thing as you went. College students are no different today. Studies show that they don’t know just how much they don’t know.

 

Unless you are living under a rock, you probably know that today personal finance is more important than ever. High school and college graduates are heading out into a tough economy where they will be burdened with high health care costs, taxes, and debt. While employees could once depend upon the government and an employee pension to cover retirement expenses, individuals are now expected to adequately save and invest themselves. Many states have begun to require high school courses in personal finance, but parents should not rely on these classes to fully prepare their children for the financial freedoms of college.

 

Maybe we are just uncomfortable talking about money since it can be such a stressful topic in our own lives. Perhaps some parents don’t feel like they understand personal finance enough themselves to be able to give advice to their children. Students going off to college, however, really need basic skills that they are going to use every day. They don’t need to know how to pick investments and the different type of retirement accounts. Start out by making sure they can do simple things like write a check and make a budget for the semester. Empowering your children to take responsibility for their own financial future sets the stage for good choices beyond graduation as well.

 

 

 

Financial Literacy in College Students: Re-visited

college high school financial literacy education

Last year I wrote about a project my honors thesis student completed on the topic of financial literacy in business students. The hypothesis for the thesis was that business majors are more financially literate than non-business majors. On the surface, it seemed like it should be a simple answer. Business students are trained in the ways of accounting, finance, marketing, and management. Financial literacy should be a result of their education. Over 400 university students responded to a survey that included sixteen financial literacy questions from the JumpStart Coalition’s test. On average, students answered half of the questions correctly. Business students, however, did not do any better than the non-business students. As a finance professor, this was not a pleasant discovery. It turned out that only age and measures of financial experience resulted in higher financial literacy scores.

 

This year I had another student working on an honors thesis related to financial literacy. She, however, wanted to focus on high school education. Some states either require a high school course in personal finance or at least are exploring the idea. Given the poor results from last year’s study, we decided to take a different approach to measuring financial literacy. Financial education is not required in Mississippi high schools, but those that offer courses predominantly utilize the Ever-Fi financial education curriculum. So, we designed our financial literacy metrics from this curriculum. The Ever-Fi curriculum focuses on basic, personal finance applications that young adults are most likely to encounter within five years of high school graduation.

 

The good news is that according to these metrics, college students have a higher level of financial literacy than expected. Over 90% of students were able to answer most of the questions correctly. At least half of students were getting the correct answers to the most challenging questions. So, perhaps college business majors are more financially literate than the previous study indicated and the measure of financial literacy should be carefully considered.

 

Financial experience and finance education both resulted in higher financial literacy. Educating high school and college students about personal finance is extremely important to the economic health of our country. Curriculum, however, should focus on what students are most likely to encounter after graduation and incorporate applied learning opportunities.