Financial literacy scores of high school students continue to hover just around the 50 percent mark, according to the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy, a national non-profit organization.
A lot of CPAs and state societies are involved in the program, which works to evaluate and improve the financial literacy of students between kindergarten and their senior year of high school. The 2005-06 survey revealed virtually no improvement, though the group's executive director, Laura Levine, said the better news was that the group saw increased participation in the number of students and the number of high schools participating.
If anything, the most recent surveyed at least showed that financial literacy levels aren't getting any worse. Students mean score on this academic year's survey was 52.4 percent, compared to 52.3 percent on the 2003-04 survey.
The test measures students' aptitude and ability to manage financial resources such as credit cards, insurance, retirement funds and savings accounts and was taken by more than 5,500 senior high school students in 37 states. The survey, administered every other year, was first given in 1997-98, when students scored a high of 57.3 percent. Since, scores have hovered in the low- to mid-50 percent range.
"This indicates that, despite the attention now paid to the lack of financial literacy, the problem is not about to resolve itself any time soon," said Lewis Mandell, a professor of finance and managerial economics at SUNY Buffalo School of Management, who conducted the survey for Jump$tart.
Worse than the low scores alone, the current survey shows that the distribution of low scores is significant broken down among races. In the current survey, white students scored an average of 55 percent while African-Americans scored 44.7 percent and Hispanics scored 46.8 percent. And students from the highest income families (those earning more than $80,000 per year), have widened their margins over the next highest group, earning between $40,000 and $80,000 annually.
The results are frustrating to see in a nation where the estimates are that the average person now routinely carries thousands of dollars of debt. Reading through the coalition's statistics, I was reminded by a commercial parody on a February "Saturday Night Live" hosted by Steve Martin. In the skit, " Don't Buy Stuff You Can't Afford," a couple struggles to comprehend the concept of saving money, before making expensive purchases.
A video is actually available at DanWho.net, http://danwho.net/mp/index.php?id=snl_dontbuystuff, and might make for compelling viewing in a high school classroom. Sadly, part of what makes the joke so funny, is just how grounded in truth the concept is.
I hope the coalition and its volunteers are at least heartened by the fact that while the survey results may not yet be showing huge dividends, at the very least, they're doing their part to ensure that the downward slide in financial literacy levels is checked.
More details on the survey, and the Jump$tart Coalition's work, is available at the group's Web site, www.jumpstartcoalition.org.
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