Guest view: Pennsylvania high schools need economics education
The commonwealth of Pennsylvania places many requirements on its public school districts, from teacher qualifications to curricular demands that include English, social studies, mathematics, arts and humanities, and even physical education.
Unfortunately, economics or personal finance is not among the required curriculum in Pennsylvania. While some schools do provide them, many students graduate without a single course on budgeting, money management or how the economy works.
While I think there is great value in arts, humanities and physical education instruction, how as a state do we justify requiring students to study those topics, but not teach students about the issues that will affect their financial lives?
This appalling arrangement is not the case everywhere. In 22 states — making up over half the population of the country — high school students are required to take either an economics course, a personal finance course or both. Many other states require their schools to at least offer these courses. Pennsylvania does neither.
Pennsylvania should catch up with these states for common-sense reasons. First, some personal finance education makes the transition to being a responsible, tax-paying adult easier. It teaches students how to budget, manage checking and saving accounts, avoid credit card debt, value their retirement accounts, and understand how to live within their means. This type of education could save many from making painful mistakes and could help our population develop much-needed healthy money habits.
There are people who earn very modest salaries and retire as millionaires because of good financial planning, while there are others who earn $1 million annually but who end up broke. Research from the Council of Economic Education confirms what our common sense would tell us: U.S. states that recently implemented a personal finance course saw an immediate 8- to 17-point improvement in young adults’ credit scores.
Second, some economics education is crucial for an educated electorate. How many citizens know what the unemployment rate is actually measuring or understand what factors affect the inflation rate? Too few do, sadly, but many who don’t know these concepts are voting for politicians who craft policies that affect the economy.
Our general ignorance of economics was seen in our last presidential election. Consider the following two common economic concepts. One is that freer trade generally makes society better off. We benefit both from jobs producing items sold to other countries and from saving money on products we purchase here that are produced more cheaply in other countries. A second concept is that minimum wages will hurt many of the very people proponents intend to help — low-skill workers — by costing them jobs. These are facts learned from introductory economics, but political candidates on both sides of the aisle have widespread support from citizens who have not learned these important concepts.
Ideally, Pennsylvania students would take separate courses in both economics and personal finance as a high school graduation requirement. But Pennsylvania would be moving in the right direction if we at least started requiring one of these classes. Having all our high school students get some economics and personal finance education won’t solve all of our state’s or country’s woes. But continued ignorance won’t help either.
Matthew Rousu is interim dean of Susquehanna University’s Sigmund Weis School of Business, which has recently established the Center for Economics, Business and Entrepreneurship Education. The university is based in Selinsgrove.