When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, students witnessed a radical change in the world they knew and the one they had been preparing to enter. Classroom lessons were replaced by virtual learning, led by teachers scrambling to find trustworthy resources. Parents huddled over kitchen tables, piecing together shattered household budgets. After-school and summer jobs vanished. College and career training shifted into new forms.

One way to help youth gain control of the situation is by giving them the foundational knowledge and skills to navigate the path forward. Finance constitutes a common thread weaving through a society that will be rebuilding for years to come. Financial literacy may be overlooked and underutilized in U.S. educational systems, but it’s more important than ever.

The Pathway to Financial Success in Schools initiative comes from a partnership between NASSP, Discover, and Discovery Education. It offers free, flexible resources that teachers and advisers of middle level and high school students can leverage to expand financial literacy, frame its relevance for the real world, and prepare young adults to make wise choices that lead them toward their dreams.

Financial Literacy Makes a Difference

No matter the fields they want to pursue, most Honor Society and student council members share the primary goal of attending college. Unfortunately for them and their families, skyrocketing costs are putting that dream out of reach. Back when their parents went to college, they might have paid $10,000 annually at four-year public institutions, including room and board. Fast forward to today, and that average cost has doubled to more than $21,000 annually. According to EducationData.org, students dreaming of acceptance at a private college can expect to pay an average of nearly $50,000 annually.

Scholarships and grants might defray costs. Loans can help students attain the college dream—if they’re ready to plunge into the nation’s $1.5 trillion college debt pool.

Reaching adulthood doesn’t magically confer the ability to manage college debt, car payments, housing costs, utility and grocery bills, and all the other necessities of a successful life. In fact, statistics reveal a stark state of unpreparedness, according to Pathway to Financial Success in Schools:

  • More than 1 in 6 U.S. students do not reach the baseline level of proficiency in financial literacy.
  • Nearly one-quarter of millennials spend more money than they earn.
  • More than two-thirds of millennials have less than three months’ worth of emergency funds on hand.

Despite the apparent need, financial literacy in America’s K–12 education system, while improving slightly, remains peppered with disparities and gaps, according to the Council for Economic Education’s “2020 Survey of the States”:

  • Twenty-one states now require high school students to take personal finance classes (up four states since 2018).
  • Twenty-five states require high school students to take an economics course (up by three).
  • Five states and the District of Columbia do not include personal finance in their standards.
  • The number of states conducting economics testing fell by six, and those testing personal finance fell by two.

Still, as the council notes, “requirements matter.” In states with requirements, students are more informed about college financing—especially those from lower-income families. Where requirements are lacking, there’s a 15-point gap in access to financial education between students from lower-income families and those from wealthier families.

Charting a Path to Financial Literacy

While states move slowly—or not—toward financial literacy requirements, individual educators and schools can leverage Pathway to Financial Success in Schools for resources that deliver personal finance education directly to students and families in relevant and topical fashion. Pathway to Financial Success in Schools has reached more than 1 million students, instilling the foundational knowledge of personal finance that positions them for lifetime security.

Jacqueline Prester, award-winning business teacher and instructional technology specialist at Mansfield High School in Mansfield, MA, relies on Pathway to Financial Success in Schools for curated, standards-aligned content for her popular personal finance courses.

“In an international pandemic, people don’t have the financial skills to help them get through the loss of a job or a furlough,” Prester says. “That can devastate a family. Having financial skills before a crisis happens can help them plan ahead, with the ability to save, prioritize, and make the best decisions for their families. These are all the things you want students to learn at a young age.”

Pathway to Financial Success in Schools puts age-appropriate financial literacy tools directly into the hands of educators, students in grades 6–12, and families. The program separates the essential topics of financial literacy into a multimedia journey. Through a variety of approaches, students understand how to create and manage a budget, build savings and emergency funds, pay for college or a car, make charitable donations, and much more.

Pathway to Financial Success in Schools comes in two editions tailored to different age levels and customizable to any educational setting or content area:

  • Middle level resources include step-by-step student videos, engaging classroom activities, and supporting educator videos. Six thematic units offer lessons in financial responsibility, getting paid, paying yourself first, using credit wisely, making major financial decisions, and growing and protecting personal finances.
  • The high school edition offers self-paced e-learning modules, classroom activities, “Family Connections” with tools and tips for parents, and curated links to high-quality education materials. Through eight thematic units, students explore financial responsibility, using financial services, financing the future and higher education, getting paid, paying yourself first, using credit wisely, making major financial decisions, and growing and protecting personal finances.

For students, the self-paced modules and video resources deliver on the promise of online learning through high-quality multimedia experiences. The self-paced modules take 10–15 minutes to complete and are fully interactive—for instance, asking users to indicate how important buying a house, owning a business, or having children in 10 years is to them right now. Students can view the videos online at any time, at home or in school. Teachers can share with entire classes. Students can view them on their own or with each other.

Because the resources are age-appropriate, teachers can reach students at their particular life phases, whether it’s a seventh grader stretching out the $20 bill he got for his birthday, or a senior saving money toward college. “Pathway to Financial Success in Schools puts the concepts in context that make sense for students,” Prester says.

Adapting to a New Reality

When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down American schools, Pathway to Financial Success in Schools saw its usage and viewership skyrocket as educators, students, and families accessed high-quality videos, modules, and resources stocked with lessons in managing finances and controlling spending—a topic suddenly brought into sharp focus.

The flexibility of Pathway to Financial Success helps teachers build confidence in their abilities to teach online and introduce personal finance into cross-curricular efforts.

“It walks them through how to pace the lessons and structure them,” Prester says. “Plus, everything has to be justified by standards, and Pathway addresses all minimum requirements. To know that what you’re teaching counts for your state’s graduation requirements while students get the benefit of life lessons in finance—it’s a one-stop shop.”

Almost 70 percent of parents are reluctant to discuss money with their children, according to a 2017 T. Rowe Price survey. Pathway’s “Family Connections” helps families break through those barriers, giving students real-world, at-home insights into their personal finance lessons. Parents and guardians can find tips on becoming financial role models, or parents and children can start the conversation about building credit or saving for college.

For one 18-year-old student of Prester’s, personal finance lessons became very real when he asked his parents for help looking up his credit score—and they discovered a fraudulent mortgage taken out by someone who had stolen his identity. “That would have affected his student loan,” Prester says. “Here was something from his class that he wanted to talk to his parents about, and it had real-world implications.”

Honor Society and student council advisers can use Pathway to Financial Success in Schools to find multiple ways to engage students, whether through self-directed learning or service projects. Students can utilize the resources to plan financial literacy events for younger students. They can use the videos and self-paced modules to initiate group discussions or pursue independent study. They can advocate to school boards and lawmakers about the need for personal finance education in schools, building their campaigns on facts and findings about financial literacy as a national imperative.

Real Life Relevancy

Every teacher has heard the question: When will I ever use this in real life? With personal finance, the answer is as close as the student’s lunch money. Personal finance is one of those topics guaranteed to touch the life of every student in America.

Students who have the opportunity to learn personal finance point to it as the subject that has the greatest meaning to them, but too few students get that chance. Many states lag in requiring personal finance education, but that doesn’t make the subject any less crucial as students look toward graduation.

As 2020 has taught us, upheaval happens, and everyone should be prepared for good days and bad. Pathway to Financial Success in Schools offers educators free, high-quality resources on the one subject that every student needs to embark with confidence into the next stage of their lives. —

M. Diane McCormick is a freelance writer based in Harrisburg, PA.

For more information on Pathway to Financial Success in Schools and to access its resources, visit www.pathwayinschools.com.