15 States Failing Big Time and Producing Financially Illiterate Students

Massive debt is a widespread problem, so it shouldn’t be surprising that people in all 50 states are financially illiterate and have problems with money.Unfortunately, things aren’t shaping up any better for the next generation. Low wages and tons of student loan debt are saddling millennials. Personal finance is a problem right now.

A study conducted by Champlain College looked at how all 50 states and Washington, D.C. teach students about personal finance, and the results were not good. Grading on an A-F scale, only five states received As. Far more were at the other end of the spectrum. Financial literacy is a huge problem in these 15 states where high school students aren’t financially educated. We’ll start with the “bright” spots before exploring all the places where students are failing at financial literacy (including a bit of a surprise at No. 8).

15. Louisiana

Despite an abundance of oil jobs, Louisiana students get very little financial training. | Mario Tama/Getty Images
  • Grade: D

It seems Louisiana is going in the wrong direction. Personal finance classes aren’t required to graduate high school. A 2016 law requires financial concepts to be taught, but it’s up to each school district how to incorporate it. One school could conceivably spend a semester on personal finance, while a school the next town over could glance over it. The authors of the Champlain College study don’t pull any punches: “Louisiana is the only state since the 2008 financial crisis that has … reduced personal finance education standards for high school students.”

Next: A state where personal finance and similar studies aren’t very important.

14. Montana

Montana, USA
Montana students don’t learn much about personal finance. | PStieger/iStock/Getty Images
  • Grade: D

Montana’s social studies standards are short enough to be sent via text message. High school students need to take just two years of social studies classes, and personal finance is hardly covered. According to the Champlain College study, just 3% of the required social studies curriculum covers personal finance. That’s a good interest rate, but it’s bad when it comes to preparing kids for the real world (not that students in Montana would know).

Next: A small state with big problems teaching finance.

13. Vermont

Stowe, Vermont
Vermont, the home state of this survey, doesn’t fare well in it. | DonLand/iStock/Getty Images
  • Grade: D

Champlain College didn’t have to go far to find one of the worst states in its rankings. Its home state gets a D grade because it’s not quite clear how, if at all, Vermont is teaching students about financial literacy. Its proficiency standards don’t require any personal finance education. A proposal to require such classes would help the state’s grade, but for now, it’s hovering dangerously close to an F grade.

Next: Some economics teaching is on the agenda in this state, but personal finance is absent.

12. Wyoming

Jackson, Wyoming
Students in Jackson, Wyoming, don’t learn very much about financial responsibility. | Town of Jackson via Facebook
  • Grade: D

When you look at the Champlain College study, you have to wonder how Wyoming earned a grade this high. As part of its social studies curriculum, Wyoming high school students take economics classes, but personal finance isn’t included. Plus, students need to take only three years of social studies in high school. Strangely enough, microeconomics is part of the agenda.

Next: It seems the only personal finance the folks in this state know are the checks coming in every year.

11. Alaska

ANCHORAGE, AK - JULY 11: A truck passes a street sign named for the Bore Tide at Turnagain Arm on July 11, 2014 in Anchorage, Alaska. Alaska's most famous Bore Tide, occurs in a spot on the outside of Anchorage in the lower arm of the Cook Inlet, Turnagain Arm, where wave heights can reach 6-10 feet tall, move at 10-15 mph and the water temperature stays around 40 degrees Fahrenheit. This years Supermoon substantially increased the size of the normal wave and made it a destination for surfers.
Alaskan students are behind when it comes to a financial education. | Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
  • Grade: F

As Hillary Clinton, many Americans, and all Alaskans know, people who live in Alaska get paid to live there. When it comes to personal finance, that’s probably the extent of Alaskans’ knowledge. The high school curriculum includes economics classes as part of its government and citizenship standards, but personal finance isn’t included.

Next: A state trying to change the way it teaches personal finance.

10. California

California is trying to improve its curriculum. | David McNew/Getty Images
  • Grade: F

An F grade is not a good look for California, but it’s trying to improve. The study assigned the poor grade based largely on the lack of personal finance classes required for graduation. The last time California revised its state standards, it placed more emphasis on teaching kids about personal finance. So the failing grade might soon be a thing of the past.

Next: The first of several failing states from the northeast.

9. Connecticut

Westport, Connecticut
Connecticut doesn’t require any personal finances classes for high school students. | Jupiterimages/iStock/Getty Images
  • Grade: F

Of the states receiving an F grade from Champlain College, Connecticut might be the worst. Not only are personal finance classes not required to graduate, they aren’t even part of any required coursework. Perhaps seeing its shortcomings, the state is working to fix things. A law now requires the state board of education to provide materials for personal finance education to local school districts.

Next: A surprising state that’s a banking center but fails at financial education.

8. Delaware

Capitol building in Dover in Delaware
Delaware passed legislation to improve its personal finance curriculum. | iStock.com/prosiaczeq
  • Grade: F

This one comes as a bit of a surprise. If you’ve ever looked closely at your credit card statements, a lot of them come from Delaware. The state is something of a financial hub, but it’s unlikely the credit card companies doing business there are hiring from within the state’s borders. Personal finance classes aren’t required for high school graduation, though a 2016 bill is working to change that.

Next: A state that is working to change its failing grade.

7. Hawaii

Waipio valley lookout on Hawaii Big Island
Hawaiian students don’t need personal finance courses to graduate high school. | Vacclav/iStock/Getty Images
  • Grade: F

Hawaii doesn’t require any kind of personal finance coursework to graduate high school. That’s the big knock against it in the Champlain College study, but the state is making the effort to improve. The state is reworking it high school social studies curriculum, and a task force is setting up the framework to make those changes.

Next: The other side of the country doesn’t fare any better than Hawaii.

6. Massachusetts

University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Massachusetts
Despite great colleges, Massachusetts high school students are at a disadvantage when it comes to personal finance classes. | UMass.edu
  • Grade: F

Massachusetts is one of the best places to raise a family. But you’d better be prepared to teach your kids about personal finance on your own time because the schools won’t do it for you. Like the other states we’ve seen so far, personal finance classes aren’t required to graduate high school. Not only that, but an economics elective for high school students doesn’t cover personal finance at all.

Next: Only a fraction of schools in this state require personal finance classes.

5. Pennsylvania

Lawrenceville, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
More and more Pennsylvania schools are introducing personal finance courses. | Peter Pawlowski/Wikimedia Commons
  • Grade: F

First, some good news from the Keystone State. In 2016, the number of school districts requiring personal finance classes to graduate high school more than doubled. The bad news? The 75 districts that do require such courses represent just a fraction of the 425 districts in the state. Personal finance courses are offered as electives in some areas, but they’re not required. Until that changes, Pennsylvania will be a state failing its students when it comes to personal finance.

Next: One state that’s making an effort to improve financial education.

4. Rhode Island

Harbor View of Providence Rhode Island
Rhode Island has made huge strides to introduce personal finance courses in the last year. | SeanPavonePhoto/iStock/Getty Images
  • Grade: F

The smallest state in the land receives an F on the Champlain College report card, but that probably won’t be the case for long. The state requires proficiency in six core areas in order to graduate high school, but personal finance is not explicitly required. However, the state treasurer helped launch an online financial education tool for middle school students. A financial challenge in 2017 designed to educate middle school and high school students is also part of the turnaround.

Next: A state that is a banking center doesn’t make the grade.

3. South Dakota

sign board saying ' South Dakota'
Despite being a financial hub, South Dakota needs to give its students a better financial education. | iStock.com/wellesenterprises
  • Grade: F

In item No. 8 our list we had something of a surprise with Delaware receiving a failing grade. South Dakota is another surprising state on the list for the same reason. Two of the biggest banks in the country, Wells Fargo and Citibank, have massive operations there. While South Dakota does offer personal finance courses in high school, they are not mandatory to graduate.

Next: Six years and just a little progress in our next location.

2. Washington, D.C.

Our nation’s capital needs to do better teaching students financial responsibility. |  Alex Wong/Getty Images
  • Grade: F

The nation’s capital has some of the best and most expensive universities in the country, but high school students are being let down. Personal finances classes aren’t required for graduation. In 2008, a financial literacy council was established. It took six years for the council to recommend the mayor’s office to appoint a financial education policy director. Meanwhile, neighbors Maryland and Virginia received high grades from Champlain.

Next: A failing state which claims a notable “financial guru” politician.

1. Wisconsin

Wisconsin Welcome sign at Marinette WI
Wisconsin is failing its students when it comes to teaching financial responsibility. | csfotoimages/iStock/Getty Images
  • Grade: F

This is the home state of Congressman Paul Ryan, who fancies himself as a financial guru. He must not be a product of his state’s school system. The Champlain College study finds that finance classes aren’t required for high school graduation. A bare-bones bill requiring classes for financial literacy passed through the state legislature, but the results are yet to be determined.

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