Investing in Our Futures with a Personal Finance Requirement

Cartoon by Melody Yang

Cartoon by Melody Yang

By Lauren Reiss

I will have taken around 40 courses by the time I graduate from South, and I have genuinely enjoyed taking almost all of them—but I must admit, there are times I recall studying while thinking to myself, “When will I ever need to know this later in life?” Of course, a well-rounded education is important to me, but as my graduation approaches, I can’t help but think about what I have not yet learned: personal finance—how to manage money and make decisions about budgeting, investing, and retirement planning. Something all students will certainly need to know later in life, financial literacy should be a required and valued element of the four year high-school curriculum at South.

As of 2016 in New York State, students entering high school are required to receive both an economic and personal finance education before they graduate. Since 1985, students have had to fulfill an economics education requirement, but it was not until this year that NYS developed statewide standards regarding personal finance. South should recognize the new personal finance requirement as a signal that students should be graduating with a greater understanding of money management and basic knowledge about budgeting, loans, credit/debit cards, insurance, compound interest, and investing.

While there is no doubt that education on these topics would maximize students’ potential for financial security in the future, requiring a course poses some logistical questions. Mr. Dennis Mooney, social studies teacher of classes such as economics, investments, and accounting, suggested that that “the only downside is where to find the time.” Take it from a senior with zero free periods—I understand that concern. However, there are many ways that students can learn personal finance skills without adding an extra semester to their course loads. It is not a specific course I suggest should be required but rather a specific curriculum. Teachers from the social studies department should meet with teachers from the business department to develop an outline of the most important aspects of personal finance to create this curriculum together.

The personal finance curriculum should then be integrated into various business electives and upper level social studies courses, including the following: AP and regular Economics, AP Government and Politics, Accounting 1 and 2, College Accounting, Career and Finance, and Investments. This way, students have a wide variety of choices and the ability to choose the class that interests them the most. As long as they take just one of these classes during their four years at South, they will have fulfilled the requirement.

The benefits of learning about the effects of financial decisions can be life altering, and different teachers have different opinions about which personal finance topics rank as the most important (perhaps because it is all important). Ms. Sheryl Burger Demetres, business teacher and advisor of DECA, believes that “the impact that student loans have on students’ futures is important to understand. [The] amount of debt that a student can take on so young could…cripple the student’s financial future” She added, “The basic knowledge of the importance of saving in a general sense and investing for the future is vital.” Mr. Mooney wants to educate students about credit cards and long term financial planning: “With pensions becoming extinct, there is a real need to understand 401Ks and 403Bs plus IRAs.” If that is all Greek to you (as it is to me), then you should understand why South must react vigorously to New York State’s new requirement.

The fact of the matter is, no matter where we go in our lives, no matter what our college majors, our aspirations, and our career paths are, we all need to know personal finance. School President and Vice President of DECA Senior Shrinath Viswanathan said, “regardless of your career, you’re going to be earning money and saving it. Knowing how to best save and invest your money is something important that everyone should learn.” High school is supposed to prepare us for the rest of our lives, and personal finance is perhaps one of the most universal and important aspects of an education that will set us up for success. And I guarantee, when students are home studying financial literacy, never once will they have to think to themselves, “When will I ever need to know this later in life?”

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