Apr 05, 2023

Personal Finance Coursework in America: What Surprised a Researcher?

What does access to financial education look like in U.S. high schools? If you know me, you know I’m a data nerd. Thanks to a partnership with NGPF, I’ve been able to construct a near-census of high school personal finance courses. That means a team of research assistants goes through each high school in the country’s website in search of an online course catalog, records all courses that include personal finance content, and sleuths the graduation requirements in the school to determine if each course is an elective or a graduation requirement. 

We now have these data from the 2019-2020 through the 2022-2023 academic years. For the 2022-2023 data, we have courses coded from 10,784 high schools, with over 19,263 specific courses! Yay data!! 

You can check out the full report or the full dataset. For now, I want to highlight three things that SURPRISED me. 


1. Access to a required standalone personal finance course—a personal finance “guarantee”—expanded drastically since we started collecting these data. In the 2019-20 academic year, 18 percent of students had access to a personal finance guarantee. In the 2022-23 academic year, 24 percent of students had access to a personal finance guarantee. 

Does that surprise me? Maybe not. Three states—Iowa, Mississippi, and North Carolina—implemented statewide guarantees during this period. 

So what DOES surprise me? The state policy change only accounted for half of the growth in access. The other half comes from growth outside of the “guarantee” states. This suggests local pressure to expand access drives a lot of expanded access! 


2. Let’s continue on that thread. Which states outside of the “guarantee” states expanded access the most? 

    • Arkansas saw a 73-percentage point increase in access to personal finance guarantees.
    • South Dakota saw a 44-percentage point increase in access to personal finance guarantees.
    • Wyoming saw a 12-percentage point increase in access to personal finance guarantees.

Even without state policy change, schools can act independently to expand access. 

3. Looking at all within state changes in access to guarantees over time, the map shows substantial increases in access nationwide! However, five states saw decreases in access: Idaho, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Washington.

Some of these, like Nevada, Oklahoma, and Washington, saw decreases in standalone personal finance course requirements that were paired with increases in personal finance content within another required course. Massachusetts and Idaho simply saw a reduction in guarantees without a similar increase.  



To view more of the research conducted by Dr. Carly Urban and her team, check out the 2023 State of Financial Education Report.

About the Author

Carly Urban

Dr. Carly Urban is Associate Professor of Economics at Montana State University, a Research Fellow at the Institute for Labor Economics (IZA), and a research fellow at the TIAA Institute. She has a full page on her website dedicated to financial education research (https://www.carlyurban.com/home/financial-education), where most of her work has been centered on financial education in schools. This research has been published in top academic journals and covered by major news outlets. When she is not working, she usually spends her time adventuring in the mountains with her husband or her dogs, Cannon and Panda.

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