Paying bills, saving money and learning how to stick to a budget are just a few of the skills that everyone needs to be financially responsible. However, those skills have not typically been taught in school. This will change in Michigan in coming years.
In June, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a bill that will require financial literacy education in high schools beginning in 2024. Students will be required to take a personal finance course as part of their graduation requirement, making Michigan the 21st state to require financial literacy courses.
The importance of this type of education is evident in those who struggle with it—which is more than half of Americans. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority finds about 66% of Americans are financially illiterate. Michigan is looking to put the next generation in a better position to navigate the stressors of modern life.
Todd Mora, program manager of the Sanford Center for Financial Planning and Wellness, is in the business of promoting financial wellness throughout the Kalamazoo area. He sees this development as a great opportunity to start students out with foundational finance skills.
“I hope that all students will come out of the personal finance classes with an awareness of how to use money to achieve their goals as well as the major pitfalls to avoid,” he says. “I am optimistic that this new requirement will help students graduate high school with a basic knowledge of financial terms and concepts.”
One of the main lessons missing for young people today, Mora says, is the ability to gauge the long-term impact of current financial decisions. Convincing a student to save $10 instead of stopping for expensive coffee can be a hard sell, but it’s one that can have a major impact over time.
“We teach students about present bias: The tendency to put instant gratification ahead of future needs. When your present bias is strong, you will put off saving to the detriment of your financial future,” he says. “Helping young people see themselves in the future and understand what their needs will be is essential to future success.”
Over the next two years, school districts will be working to develop a curriculum to fulfill the financial literacy requirement. Mora advises teachers: “Teaching personal finance is no different from teaching mathematics or English. The challenge is developing and delivering engaging lessons that resonate with students.”
The Sanford Center for Financial Planning and Wellness has worked with local schools and the Kalamazoo Regional Educational Services Agency to put on financial reality fairs and other events, showing that learning financial literacy can be fun. The center also runs a Dollars and Sense summer camp each year for students in the local community.
“I see this bill as a great opportunity for WMU Haworth to use our expertise and knowledge to help schools develop and implement this curriculum,” he says. “The Sanford Center for Financial Planning and Wellness has already branched out to Grand Rapids, offering a financial literacy camp in collaboration with Grand Rapids Community College. We hope to have many more opportunities to do the same with other local school districts.”
Mora says this bill is a good step in the right direction, but financial wellness starts at home.
“I would encourage every parent to talk to their children about money and personal finance from their perspective. Parents are the greatest influence on a child’s financial life. The sooner they start helping their children with responsible personal financial decisions, the sooner their child will be on the path to financial independence.”
ABOUT THE SANFORD CENTER FOR FINANCIAL PLANNING AND WELLNESS
The Sanford Center for Financial Planning and Wellness in the Haworth College of Business at Western Michigan University promotes financial literacy throughout the greater Kalamazoo community via workshops, seminars, summer camps and research. Leveraging the skills and talents of students, faculty, staff and community members, the center works to enhance the financial literacy of area high school and college students.