Column: Financial literacy should supplement STEM education

Dan Berce 

GM Financial KEYS

Discussions about the current and future states of U.S. schools often focus on the importance of driving students into STEM fields through increased access to, and investment in, STEM education. And rightfully so. According to 2016 Pew Research Center analysis, employment in STEM fields has grown nearly 80 percent since 1990, outpacing overall U.S. job growth. Further, that same analysis found that STEM workers enjoy a 26 percent pay advantage over non-STEM workers with similar levels of education.

Yet, there is a clear overall success driver often overlooked in the STEM education discussion, which countless studies have shown is also critical to a person’s short- and long-term upward mobility.

- FWBP Digital Partners -

Are our future leaders receiving enough personal financial education – a set of skills that can help determine a young person’s ability to fully realize the American Dream?

As more young adults explore professions in science, technology, engineering and math, it’s crucial that they also prepare to independently and responsibly manage their finances. Unfortunately, many students receive inadequate financial literacy education prior to entering the workforce. In a comprehensive 2017 study, the Center for Financial Literacy at Champlain College gave 27 states a grade of C, D or F on “their efforts to produce financially literate high school graduates.” Only five states received an A: Alabama, Missouri, Tennessee, Utah and Virginia. Texas got a B.

Additionally, every three years, the Program for International Assessment (part of the Global Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) studies how 15-year-olds from industrialized nations around the globe are faring in math, science and reading – the foundations for 21st century careers. But it adds another dimension to the assessment by also evaluating financial literacy. Disappointingly, American students fall just below average in that arena, well behind their Chinese counterparts, who lead the pack.

The good news is that increasing numbers of public- and private-sector organizations recognize this disconnect and are trying to help turn the tide. Locally, the Fort Worth Independent School District’s Young Women’s Leadership Academy (YWLA) is preparing students – many from socioeconomically disadvantaged households – for college. Its curriculum places an emphasis on science, math and technology so graduates are prepared to pursue their dreams of achieving a college education.

- Advertisement -

With the help of KEYS by GM Financial, a financial literacy program launched by our company in late 2016, past YWLA students have also had access to financial literacy education. With plans to renew the collaboration in the 2019-2020 school year, the KEYS program helps equip students with real-world skills that will help build healthy financial habits for life.

Developed to be useful to any consumer, this program clearly recognizes the link between financial literacy and improved financial stability. It aims to improve financial literacy in communities by delivering critically important credit, budgeting and basic financial education in a series of learning segments to help drive upward mobility.

While many of these learning segments lead to “aha moments,” our trained employee facilitators have often shared that no topic induces more wide eyes and dropped jaws than teaching participants the connection between their credit score and interest rate, and the impact these have on a monthly loan payment. This is the kind of informational power that creates smarter, more successful adults who know and are able to own their buying power.

As we work together in our communities to do the important, necessary work of preparing our students for impactful jobs that contribute meaningfully to the economy, let’s also give them the tools to manage their money capably. After all, while post-high school education can open the door to upward mobility, stable personal financial health is what sustains that ascent.

- Advertisement -

Dan Berce is president and CEO of GM Financial is the wholly-owned captive finance subsidiary of General Motors and is headquartered in Fort Worth.