WASHINGTON — Despite a greater need to understand finances _ student debt has tripled over the last decade and college tuition continues to rise _ most students don’t know how to handle their money.
The President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young Americans on Monday recommended addressing that problem by integrating hands-on financial education into curricula as early as prekindergarten.
The recommendation emphasizes taking charge of personal finances over learning about financial management, a move that Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said was a strong investment in the country’s economic future.
Right now, financial education rarely makes it into most classrooms. And when it does, it’s sporadic and random at best, said Amy Rosen, a member of the council who’s also the president and CEO of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, a program that teaches entrepreneurship to youths from low-income communities.
Although 17 states require high school students to take courses that teach personal finance, only four _ Missouri, Tennessee, Utah and Virginia _ require finance-only courses before graduation, according to the nonprofit Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy, whose work is aimed at students.
Only 24 percent of young adults can answer four or five questions on a five-question quiz about basic financial terms, according to a study released Monday by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, the largest independent securities regulator in the U.S. A 2011 survey by the brokerage firm Charles Schwab found that although most teens said they were financially responsible, less than 30 percent knew how credit card interest works.
The advisory council, a mix of finance and education experts from the public and private sectors, hopes to adapt successful models from cities and communities that have developed classes, training and workshops. The council also plans to leverage technology to boost access to safe financial services and help families understand the importance of financial education.
It hopes to piggyback on President Barack Obama’s pitches for universal pre-K, common learning standards for states and the My Brother’s Keeper program, a White House effort to help young black and Hispanic men stay in school and develop careers. Nine foundations have committed $200 million to the project.
“There is a moment and time here,” said Melissa Koide, the deputy assistant secretary for consumer policy at the Treasury Department. “The window for action is shutting.”
The lack of financial literacy is a symptom of problems with the overall education system, said Richard Ketchum, a member of the advisory council who’s also the chairman and CEO of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.
“We’ve disconnected aspiration from education,” he said.