Personal finance seen as big gap in Mass. education landscape

Personal finance seen as big gap in Mass. education landscape











Sen. EldridgeSun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.


Sen. Eldridge

Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

BOSTON — Eric Swansburg, a business teacher at King Philip Regional High School, passed a 100-question test around his class last week to gauge students’ knowledge on saving, investing, insurance, banking, inflation and other finance matters.

The test came back to him with 53 questions answered correctly and 47 wrong.

“So I said, OK, we know that there’s a problem,” Swansburg recounted Wednesday. He said he asked his students, “Do you guys care about this stuff, are you interested, are you intrigued?”

In a survey he gave the day after the test, 74 percent of the students ranked financial literacy as one of the top three subject areas they believed would affect their future most.

The results told Swansburg his students wanted to know more about how to handle money and what to expect as they graduate, pay for college, and begin to earn income.

Swansburg highlighted the contrast between his students’ knowledge of personal finance and their interest in the subject at a lobby day in support of bills that would require financial literacy education in Massachusetts.

According to MassSaves, the financial education coalition that sponsored the event, 20 states require students to take a high school economics class to graduate and 17 require a course in financial literacy. Massachusetts does neither.

Lawmakers this session have filed 10 different financial education bills.

MassSaves backs two in particular (S 249, H 261), sponsored by Sen. Jamie Eldridge and Rep. Danielle Gregoire, which would charge the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education with authorizing the implementation of standards and objectives on personal finance literacy.

In a letter to lawmakers, MassSaves said those bills were the “most inclusive,” while other similar bills “limit the teaching of financial literacy to math, while there are many other areas where financial education can be infused into the regular curriculum with little additional resources.”

Data presented Wednesday by MassSaves showed that the average class of 2016 college graduate held $37,172 in student debt, up 6 percent from the previous year. Three-quarters of college students with credit cards were unaware of late payment charges, and 43 percent of millennials reported using costly non-bank borrowing methods like payday loans and pawn shops.

In March, University of Massachusetts President Marty Meehan announced plans to create a new internet resource to provide free financial literacy programming and education about paying for college to students at UMass, state universities, community colleges and Massachusetts high schools.

A task force, convened by Treasurer Deborah Goldberg, found in December 2015 that financial literacy problems face people of all ages in Massachusetts and can pose a roadblock to economic stability. The group’s report suggested a public financial education awareness program, the creation of an online portal with information on available programing and training for teachers, among other recommendations.

Mark Silva, assistant principal at Charlestown’s Harvard-Kent Elementary School, said during the lobby day that he realized the importance of financial education when was a high school teacher and found out some of the students he taught were unaware of the connection between education level and income.

“I can still remember the faces on some of these students — good kids, capable kids — who were looking at me and saying, ‘Oh. Really?’ They didn’t know,” Silva said. “They really didn’t know. People had been saying education’s important, school is important, but they didn’t directly understand how that leads to economic access and opportunity in ways that can change and alter their lives.”

Silva said he now works with elementary students to help them understand how the economy works and envision their future place in it. He said he highlights the average difference in earnings for different levels of educational attainment, and that helps motivate them to try hard and do well in school. 

“The kids get it,” he said. “And I’ll say to them at the beginning of the day, ‘Go make that money.'”



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