Battle Creek

Voices of Youth: Financial literacy required for Michigan students by 2028Olivet students get early start

Editor's Note:  This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's Voices of Youth Battle Creek program which is supported by the BINDA Foundation, City of Battle Creek, Battle Creek Community Foundation, and the Michigan After School Partnership. This series features stories created by Calhoun County youth in partnership with professional mentors, as well as feature stories by adult writers that examine issues of importance to local youth.

“Younger Adults are Getting Used to Living on a Financial Cliff.”

“Nearly Half of Young Adults Have ‘Money Dysmorphia,’ Survey Finds.”

“A Generation Avoids Facing its Finances.”

These are all current headlines circulating the country — and the consensus is that young adults need help managing their money.

When asked if she thinks that current high schoolers are ready to handle their own finances when they graduate from high school if they don’t take a financial literacy class, Olivet High School Counselor Kelly Collins says, “I believe that the current group of students lack the necessary preparation to manage their financial affairs post-graduation. I support the mandatory completion of a financial literacy course.” 

An Olivet parent agrees. “Students are not prepared to handle their finances in my opinion. For example, students who work-shadow with me have never heard of debt/income ratios when looking to go to college. Student debt has become crippling for some people.” 

While many high schools in Michigan already offer financial literacy classes, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed a bill into law that will require high school students, starting with the class of 2028, to take at least half a credit of financial literacy to graduate. This new law was created to ensure that young adults graduating from high school learn how to conduct personal business activities, like opening a bank account, investing, and budgeting finances. 

Sophia PellAccording to a survey of 30 adults in the Greater Lansing Area, over 70 percent of adults agree that financial literacy courses should be required. One adult who agrees with the decision to make financial literacy a required credit is Olivet Financial Literacy Teacher Brian Dartt. 

“I think it is one of the most beneficial classes, helps their future, it helps future quality of life… there is a lot of information attacking the youth suggesting that they should borrow for everything and the only way to combat that is [financial] knowledge,” says Dartt.

Olivet High School’s financial literacy program has been going strong for over a decade. Aside from an actual financial literacy class, Olivet also offers Agricultural Leadership, and Agricultural Business and Marketing Management classes as a part of its agricultural studies program. 

“While some Michigan schools may simply meet the state requirement within their economics curriculum, Olivet distinguishes itself by providing two additional comprehensive educational pathways,” says Collins.

This educational route pays off, Dartt explains.“I have gotten a ton of feedback connecting with alumni who have told me stories of buying their first house, or setting up a savings account for their newborn baby.".

Many high schoolers at Olivet High School take financial literacy classes to fulfill their senior math credit. However, there are more benefits to financial literacy than just not having to take calculus senior year.

Sophia PellOnly 75 percent of adults 25 and older took a financial literacy course in high school, according to the Greater Lansing Financial Literacy Survey. Out of all the adults who stated that they did not take a financial literacy class in high school, almost all of them said they wished they had. When asked what they wish they had learned in high school before having to handle their own finances, some common answers were creating a budget, investing, and saving for retirement.

All of these topics are ones that Dartt covers in his financial literacy class. “I try to give them [students] a good, well-rounded awareness of finance. Some main topics are debt, insurance, taxes, investing, saving to pay for big items and consumer awareness.” Dartt says, adding this gives students a head start in life.

“People in my generation would learn by trial and error; they would borrow too much [at] too high-interest rates and have to dig out of a hole for the next ten years," Dartt says. He adds that in the current economy, learning finances by making mistakes is just not feasible. By giving students a complete, well-rounded financial education, educators give their students all of the tools to be financially independent. Or at least enough knowledge to get a start planning their finances for the rest of their life.

There is almost no argument about against why financial literacy classes should be required in Michigan. Out of the 30 adults who completed the financial literacy survey, only one said that financial literacy classes should not be required. The other 29 participants all agreed that requiring financial literacy classes in Michigan is a step in the right direction when it comes to personal finance education. Olivet High School students think this new law is great as well. 

“I’m just glad that financial literacy counts as a senior math credit, so they can’t make me take calculus,” one student admits.

Sophia PellThere are so many good reasons for teenagers to take financial literacy classes. Among them is a chance for young adults to learn what to do with their money before they have it. Guidance on what kind of bank account to get, how to make investments, and the most important thing students learn in Dartt’s financial literacy class according to him: how to create an emergency fund, so that the chances of going into debt are lowered in case of an uncontrollable emergency.

Though Olivet’s financial literacy program has been up and running for more than a decade, other schools in Michigan did not have financial literacy classes before talk of them being required. Although some schools still use economics as a “financial literacy” credit, the number of schools that have dedicated classes where students can learn how to manage their finances is growing. 

This trend is going to benefit students’ futures in huge ways. In the United States over half of the states require, or are going to start requiring financial literacy classes for high school graduation. The hope is that soon, more and more states will continue to implement their own financial literacy requirements.

John Grap

Sophia Pell is an Olivet High School Junior. She runs track and plays volleyball. In her free time, she can normally be found reading or sneaking into local tracks with her teammates to get some extra practice in
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