Sarah Boyce left her hometown in Indiana and came to BYU excited for the opportunities that awaited her academically and socially. She had recently opened her first bank account and received her first debit card. She lived on campus, had a meal plan and had a scholarship to help pay for tuition. She was positive that she would succeed as an independent college student.
However, Boyce ran out of money by February of her freshman year and had to borrow enough money from her parents to get her through the remaining three months of the semester.
“Even though I was pretty independent in high school, there was a realization when I came to college about all the things I didn’t pay for before like laundry, housing and food,” Boyce said.
Now a junior, Boyce said she wishes she had been better prepared for the financial responsibilities that come with adulthood and college life.
High school students often dream of becoming an adult and heading off to college, but newly independent students don’t always fully realize the significant strain that adult responsibilities might have on their wallet. This is only magnified without a proper education in personal finances — whether that omission occurred at home or in school.
“Being taught about these things would have increased my confidence level,” Boyce said. “It wouldn’t have been as stressful or as terrifying. I don’t think people get the help they’re entitled to because they just don’t know how to get that help.”
According to a 2018 study by the Council for Economic Education, only 17 states in the U.S. require high school students to enroll in and complete a personal finance course. The number of states that require such a course has not increased since 2016.
“Utah high school students need to take a financial literacy class to graduate,” Dana Adcock, a BYU family life adjunct professor, said. “This class helps them navigate topics like credit, debt, managing money and saving money.”
The class is to be taken during students’ junior or senior year. According to the Utah State Board of Education, while enrolled in the finance course, “students will gain the information and skills to implement a life-long plan for financial success.”
The class covers topics such as basic economics, personal financial goals, income, investment strategies, budgeting, credit scores and more. Once the course is completed, students can work towards earning a certification.
“As a member of the school board, I support all efforts to educate every student in an appropriate way,” said Sara Hacken, an Alpine School District school board member. “That would certainly include the life skills classes that we offer at the district.”
Although states like Utah are striving to help students cultivate the skills they will need after they leave high school, there are 33 states that do not require personal finance courses in high school.
However, college students who were not required to take a finance class or did not have access to these classes in high school can still take college courses to learn to be financially independent. Colleges across the country offer personal or family finance classes to help students learn the basics of money management, taxes, investing and other topics.
The BYU Financial Fitness Center is designed to help students of all ages and circumstances, including those getting married, expecting a child, graduating from college, heading to graduate school or considering taking out more student loans.
From tax help to retirement planning, students can meet with financial fitness counselors who will help guide them in these financial decisions and questions.
In addition to the Financial Fitness Center, located in A-166 ASB, the BYU School of Family Life offers a family finance class — SFL 260 — to help students learn about smart money practices and help them take control of their personal finances.
Throughout the class, students not only learn basic concepts like budgeting, but also complex concepts like buying a home or planning for retirement. Other topics like credit, taxes, insurance and investing are also covered.
These topics are often unfamiliar or uncomfortable to students who have not received proper instruction about personal finances from their previous schooling or teaching at home.
“I am astounded at how little students know about finances at the beginning of the class and how much they learn during the class,” said Jeff Hill, associate director of family studies. “I have received countless emails thanking me, especially when it came to big financial decisions like buying a car or a house.”
In order to give students real-life experience with handling finances, many homework assignments in SFL 260 require students to practice the concepts learned in class with their own money. Some of these practical homework assignments include creating a budget, documenting a personal net-worth statement and creating a savings plan to purchase an item of the student’s choice.
“I ask my students how much they have learned and about the skills they have developed at the end of the semester. Most of them report learning a great deal,” said BYU professor of family finances Jeff Dew. “It’s gratifying to have a student tell me that they are in a more financially stable place — or even just more happy — because they know how to manage their money now.”
Dew said a basic understanding of financial principles is essential for students to have freedom in their lives.
“When we understand and live sound financial management principles, we are more free to act both now and in the future,” Dew said. “It also has to do with having a stable financial situation. Sound financial management behaviors promote stability. Although we might not become the next millionaire, we will have a more secure financial situation.”