The writer is chairman of the board for the Nebraska Bankers Association and president and CEO of the First State Bank of Loomis.
Throughout my career as a community banker, I’ve had the opportunity to witness the financial success and failure of many. Poor financial practices are frequently passed along generationally. As a result, it is not surprising to see young adults struggle in managing personal finances when at-home examples have struggled. Critical financial concepts and practices have not been adequately detailed and cultivated for real-world use within Nebraska’s K-12 curriculum. It is that imperative we break this reoccurring trend and that, through enhanced state school standards and/or legislative direction, we feature financial education more directly to prepare our young Nebraskans to thrive as adults.
The 2017 National Report Card on Financial Literacy in High Schools gave Nebraska a “C” grade related to personal finance education. Five states received “A” grades, and 19 others received a “B.” Currently, 22 states in the U.S. require students to complete a course in economics, while only 17 states mandate a personal finance course for graduation. Nebraska does not have a state course requirement.
Recent research conducted by the Nebraska Council on Economic Education found that 210 of Nebraska’s 244 school districts offer a personal finance class. Of these, 95 districts require completion of a personal finance class for graduation. These 95 districts account for approximately 60 percent of Nebraska’s total student population. While the names of the individual districts were not included in the council’s research, we have learned that district size did not seem to be a limiting factor, as Arthur County Schools is one of the districts that requires a personal finance course to graduate; they also offer an economics elective course.
Last September, the Nebraska Department of Education issued a public interest survey in relation to the current social studies standards in Nebraska schools. These standards first incorporated very basic requirements related to personal finance when last updated in 2012. Speaking as a financial professional, I contend the standards do not require enough attention to personal finance to achieve the goal of adequate financial literacy.
A plausible solution would be to amend Nebraska’s education standards to require all Nebraska students to complete a semester-long personal finance class during their sophomore or junior year, coupled with supportive curriculum in all other grades. Education coursework would include topic expansion on various business models, real-world personal and family budgeting, how to read a paystub and understanding general deductions, credit history, factors for personal credit and how to build it, closer examinations of student loan options and how to better research scholarships and employers that offer tuition reimbursement. These were among 21 financial topic suggestions the Nebraska Bankers Association recently compiled and shared with the Education Department’s standards review staff.
Conversations with many educators across the state suggest that requiring a personal finance class is not necessarily a question of resources, but rather a question of prioritization. For example, understanding complex mathematic principles are important skills, but we should also recognize that few students will utilize those skills in their future careers. On the other hand, personal financial decisions will impact every student regardless of background, educational attainment, socioeconomic status or career track. Financial literacy and relevant, real-world applications must be prioritized.
It is important to recognize and appreciate the many social and cultural challenges as well as the regulatory demands placed on Nebraska schools and educators. The Nebraska Bankers Association and our 179-member banks are committed to providing continued financial literacy assistance in our communities. We continue to offer access to online training tools, visit local classrooms when asked, conduct tours of our banks and provide teaching aids as requested. We remain committed to working with the Nebraska education community to strengthen our students’ financial understanding to make them both career- and life-ready. Lastly, I’d encourage all Nebraskans to engage in discussion with area school boards and local and state elected officials to make financial literacy a priority for all Nebraska students.