Personal Finance Instruction at U.S. Colleges and Universities

Kimberly Blanton

 
During the financial boom several years ago, mortgages weren’t the only form of money that coursed through the nation’s financial system. Student loans were plentiful – and easy to get. College students reported that money appeared – almost like magic – in their bank accounts, minutes after they completed a financial company’s “easy online loan application.” Rising tuitions have continued to propel borrowing in recent years.

Student debt in the United States now approaches $1 trillion – exceeding Americans’ credit-card balances for the first time – and 59 percent of U.S. undergraduates are in debt, according to FinAid.org. These loans have often had painful consequences for millions of graduates who entered the workforce in recent years. Debt has made it difficult to buy a home or save for retirement.

But universities have begun taking the initiative to educate their students about their personal financial decisions. For some institutions and individual instructors, it has become a mission. This report, based on interviews with more than three dozen educators, textbook publishers, researchers, personal finance organizations, and business schools, examines universities’ attempts to educate their general student populations to be more financially savvy.

No central database exists that tracks institutions offering personal finance courses for students’ benefit, rather than as a routine part of a business school curriculum. The Financial Security Project at Boston College identified more than 100 U.S. colleges and universities that offer for-credit courses in personal finance, many of them adopted them during the past six to eight years. Despite this promising trend, there is still an enormous need for college personal finance education, which currently reaches a small share of the total student population.