Utah Schools Get Only A+ in the Country

Teaching Financial Literacy

Don Milne | Photos courtesy of Zions Bank Jan 9, 2019

In the education field, the term STEM is commonly used when advocating for skills needed to excel in the 21st century — science, technology, engineering and math. In Utah it could probably be termed STEMM, with the extra M standing for money.

Utah was recently recognized by the Center for Financial Literacy at Champlain College as the only state in the nation graded A+ for its superior financial literacy program. The high grade did not happen by chance.

Adults Making Poor Financial Choices

More than a decade ago, Utah legislators recognized that too many adults were making poor financial decisions leading to financial stress, excessive debt, past due accounts, repos, foreclosures and bankruptcies.

In many cases, it was lack of knowledge that led people to make these poor money choices. Rather than wait for adults to learn from the school of hard knocks, Utah Rep. David Hogue and Utah Sen. Pat Jones decided it would be a good idea to require Utah high school students to learn important personal money management skills while still in high school.

Beginning with the class of 2008, Utah high schoolers were required to attend a semester-long financial literacy course before graduating from high school. The course focuses on decision-making and goals; income and careers; saving; investing and planning for retirement; and money management.

10th Anniversary

More than 400,000 high school graduates completed the financial literacy course in 2018, the 10th anniversary of the program.

Has it had any impact? Here are a few measurements that suggests that it has.

  • According to a recent CNBC report, the average student loan debt for recent grads in America is $31,500. In Utah it is less than $20,000, 37 percent less than the nation’s average. No other state has a lower average.
  • The same CNBC report revealed that up to 77 percent of college graduates borrowed money to pay for their schooling. In Utah 43 percent of graduates borrowed money to pay for college. No other state has a lower percentage.
  • Eleven years ago, before any students had completed the financial literacy program, the median savings account balance for people between age 18 and 20 at Zions Bank was $110. Ten years later, the median savings account balance for that age group at Zions Bank increased to $502. Inflation isn’t the reason for this change, because the Consumer Price Index only changed by 18 percent during this period. One logical cause is students in the financial literacy class are learning the importance of making savings a priority.

The impact of this program on the population of Utah is only likely to improve as the quality of teaching rises. In fact, one of the key contributors to the A+ grade earned by Utah was the quality and training of its teachers.

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