I’m an educator at Robbinsdale Armstrong High School in Plymouth, where I teach both introductory and advanced placement (AP) economics. This topic is close to my heart for many reasons. Practical Economics has a direct translation into the real world that my juniors and seniors will soon be partaking in. As a result, I use my class to try and do my best to prepare them for what is to come.
In a personal finance unit, students complete a comprehensive budget project in which they gain experience of “coming of age” by creating a monthly budget. This includes paying rent, insurance, student loans, car loans, and more. The exercise is a real eye opener for the students. Comments like, “Real life is insanely expensive” or “Wow, this compound interest stuff really works” are common.
Students learn that student loans are legally binding and how credit card debt can destroy dreams. You’ll learn about the ever-changing investment landscape, why market time is better than trying to time the market, and how diversified investments in low-cost index funds have outperformed most active traders over time.
As a teacher, it is rewarding to hear from my former students how they have opened an IRA or successfully obtained a business loan based on what they learned in class. One former student was so confident in what he had learned in my class that after graduating from college and establishing himself as a young professional, he began funding scholarships for Personal Finance Students of the Year, which are held each year on June 12th be given to my students.
When I tell parents about the personal finance topics I discuss with my high school seniors (things like budgeting, credit, saving, investing, and IRAs), I can’t tell you how often parents respond with, “I wish I’d learned that in the High School!”
When I show students the power of compound interest, how regularly saving and investing small amounts of money over a lifetime can turn into a small fortune, students often ask why don’t more people know about it. My answer is that it’s not her fault; the simplest were never taught. What a disservice to our future generations!
Personal finance education enables students to learn strategies that break the cycle of poverty and build generational wealth. They’re more likely to invest their savings and less likely to fall for expensive predatory loans (e.g., payday loans). Personal finance teaches practical survival skills—investing for retirement, navigating educational and career decisions, managing credit, budgeting, insuring assets—skills ALL young people need to thrive in modern life. Can we think of anyone who would not benefit from exposure to this material in their lifetime?
A comprehensive personal finance education prepares students to face some of our society’s greatest financial necessities…before meeting them in the “School of Hard Knocks.” These skills are too important and require more than a brief unit in a business class or waiting until individual counties/schools need personal finance. Currently, only 1 in 6 high school students in Minnesota is guaranteed to take a personal finance course before graduation.
Minnesota voters believe the state can do better. In an April 2022 poll conducted by Public Policy Polling for the NGPF Mission 2030 Fund, 82% of our state’s voters said they “believe all high school students should be guaranteed a foundation course in… personal finances,” and 86% said lawmakers urgently need to address this.
I urge our lawmakers to review research that conclusively shows that students who receive quality personal finance instruction in school manage their finances better as adults, resulting in less debt, higher credit scores, higher personal income and a overall better quality of life.
After passing the draft law, I am confident that the implementation will also go well. I have taken training from the Minnesota Council on Economics Education and Next Gen Personal Finance, both of which are great organizations that take on the challenge of preparing Minnesota teachers for free.
There is growing momentum across the country to make personal finance a degree requirement. Let’s keep Minnesota at the forefront of education and prepare our students for the challenging financial landscape by ensuring that every Minnesota student receives a quality personal finance education.
James Redelsheimer teaches at Robbinsdale Armstrong High School in Plymouth. He is an author of Barron’s AP Economics, board member of BestPrep, Master Teacher with the Minnesota Council on Economic Education, and Next Gen Personal Finance Teacher Fellow.