Erica Dzwlewicz teaches "College Money & Investments," an elective class at...

Erica Dzwlewicz teaches "College Money & Investments," an elective class at Oceanside High School. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

New York is one of 15 states that does not require high school students to take a course in personal finance to graduate, leaving young people unprepared to make critical economic decisions later in life, according to a new survey from a Manhattan nonprofit.

But the leaders of the Council for Economic Education, which released its biennial "Survey of the States" report Monday, said there is growing momentum in New York to join a national trend of adding a mandatory financial literacy course requirement for a diploma.

Currently, personal finance and concepts such as budgeting, debt and credit are integrated into a mandatory high school economics class where students learn about capitalism, globalization and economic policies. Critics say the course doesn't cover practical issues such as whether to rent or buy a car and why rental insurance matters.

“We know that [personal finance] is a very small part of that course, and frankly, it does a disservice to both economics and personal finance to have them work together,” Chris Caltabiano, chief program officer of the Council for Economic Education, said during a phone interview with Newsday and other news media Monday. 

WHAT TO KNOW

  • A new nationwide survey by an education nonprofit found that 15 states, including New York, do not require high school students to take a personal finance class as a graduation requirement.
  • In New York, personal finance concepts such as budgeting, debt and credit are integrated into a mandatory high school economics class where students learn about capitalism and economic policies. 
  • Last November, the state Education Department’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Graduation Measures recommended to the Board of Regents that financial literacy be a graduation requirement.

Financial literacy requirement

Last November, the state Education Department’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Graduation Measures recommended to the state Board of Regents, which makes the final decision on course mandates, that financial literacy be a graduation requirement. A decision by the Board of Regents on adopting the recommendation could come in the spring, advocates said.

The state Education Department did not respond to a request for comment.

The council's report found that 35 states require students to take a course in personal finance to graduate, up from 23 states two years ago. Meanwhile, 28 states, including New York, require students study economics to graduate, up from 25 in 2022, the survey found. 

“Making poor decisions at a young age can really hurt you financially over the long run,” said Nan Morrison, an East Patchogue native and president and chief executive officer of the Council for Economic Education.

“And some people more than others,” Morrison added. “So this really matters for people.”

Opponents of making personal finance a mandatory course requirement say efforts would be better spent improving existing curricula. Adding another mandatory class, they say, could crowd out other learning objectives.

State Education Commissioner Betty Rosa and state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli recently co-authored an op-ed, published in Newsday, calling for a mandatory financial literacy course where students can learn skills such as budgeting, saving and investing.

“A personal finance educated New Yorker is our best New Yorker,” Joe Galante, New York State assistant comptroller for strategic planning, said during a council panel Monday in Manhattan.

Smart money decisions

“It is someone who is going to make the right financial decisions and someone who is going to have less in the way of mortgage foreclosures, difficulty paying the bills and less people seeking public assistance from the state," Galante said.

Some Long Island high schools offer elective courses on financial planning, investing and managing credit scores.

Oceanside offers a “College Money & Investments” course, while in East Meadow, students can choose from three electives: careers and finance, financial literacy and senior futures. In the Plainview-Old Bethpage district, students can take the “Career and Financial Management” elective.

“It's probably the only topic that students are going to need for the rest of their lives and deal with on a daily basis,” said Marsha Iverson, associate professor and program director of business education, family and consumer sciences at Hofstra University. " … In a personal finance course, students learn about paying for college, the cost of credit and maintaining good credit. Your life's report card is your credit rating.”

Six bills have been introduced in the State Legislature mandating high schools provide a course on financial literacy as a condition of graduation, according to Next Gen Personal Finance, a national nonprofit that tracks state legislation. Previous efforts in Albany to implement the personal finance course have failed dating back to 2009.

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