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Teens Respond Well to Financial Education

A recently released, national evaluation of a teen financial education program shows that young people who studied the curriculum for as little as 10 hours not only significantly increased their understanding of money management, but also improved their financial behavior in the ensuing months.

Financial Knowledge and Behavior Improve Immediately — and Are Retained

The impact evaluation was conducted during the 2003-2004 academic year on the NEFE High School Financial Planning Program® (HSFPP), which is provided to schools at no cost by the National Endowment for Financial Education® (NEFE®). NEFE is the nation’s only nonprofit foundation wholly dedicated to helping Americans take control of their finances.

The NEFE High School Financial Planning Program is offered in partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Cooperative State Research, Education and Extensive Service and participating Land-Grant University Cooperative Extension Services (CES); and with the Credit Union National Association, Inc., and America's Credit Union (CUNA).

The study posed a series of questions to students at three points in time. At the completion of the program, students were asked 14 core questions related to what they gained from the curriculum. Using their answers as a foundation, the students then were asked the same questions in relation to what they knew before they studied the curriculum. Finally, students were asked the same questions again three months later. Questions and results were grouped into the categories of financial knowledge, confidence and behavior. Results showed statistically significant improvement in all categories immediately after the program—and further improvements later on.

In the area of behavior, for example, 18.5 percent of students said that before they studied the curriculum they “almost always” set aside money for future needs and wants; after the program, the percentage increased to 28. Three months later, the number had grown to 36.5 percent. Likewise, the percentage of students who said they “almost always” set goals for managing money nearly tripled, from nine percent before the program, to 15 percent immediately after the program and 24 percent three months later.

Other evaluation results showed that 42 percent of students said before studying the HSFPP, they strongly agreed that they knew the difference between needs and wants; immediately after the program, the number grew to 67—an increase of 25 percent. The number rose further, to 80.5 percent, in the three-month follow-up. Similarly, 19 percent of students said they “almost always” felt confident about making financial decisions before studying the HSFPP. The percentage increased to 29 after the program, and three months later it had grown to 37.5 percent.

These results suggest that even relatively limited exposure to financial education can impart significant, lasting and practical personal financial knowledge to young people from all walks of life.

Sharon M. Danes, Ph.D., professor and family economist at the University of Minnesota, conducted the evaluation of students and teachers across the country.

“Through both the answers to evaluation survey questions and their own words, teens throughout the U.S. have reported that they not only have learned about personal finance by studying the HSFPP, but many have changed their spending and saving behavior and are more confident about managing their finances in the future,” she said.

Of the 5,329 students surveyed who studied the HSFPP, 95 percent were in high school, and nearly 70 percent were juniors and seniors. Rural areas, small communities, medium-sized cities and large metropolitan areas were almost equally represented. A smaller number of students—324—took part in the three-month follow-up survey, primarily for logistical reasons.

“The High School Financial Planning Program has allowed millions of students to have the opportunity to gain the skills necessary to lead financially secure and rewarding lives in adulthood,” said William L. Anthes, Ph.D., president and CEO of the National Endowment for Financial Education. “The program’s value has been proven and America’s youth are benefiting from it,” added Elizabeth Schiever, director of the HSFPP.

A complete copy of the “Evaluation of the NEFE High School Financial Planning Program” is available on the NEFE Web site, at, in the Education Programs section.

The program was introduced in 1984 as a public service project and has been studied by nearly four million young people. Consisting of six units, the curriculum uses real-world scenarios to teach teens how to manage their money. Coursework focuses on goal setting, budgeting and saving, while covering topics such as financial responsibility, earning money, compound interest, credit and insurance. The program is designed to be used within the context of existing courses and can be presented over a period of weeks or months. It can be taught in as few as 10 hours of classroom instruction, although many instructors teach it even longer to give students the full benefit of the program. A step-by-step Instructor’s Manual and 120-page Student Guide, contain all necessary course material.

Contact: Nan S. Mead


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