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Survey of Pennsylvania Schools

In 2009, the Penn State University’s Survey Research Center (SRC), on behalf of the Pennsylvania Office of Financial Education, completed a survey of financial education in Pennsylvania’s public high schools. The survey identified the extent to which personal finance courses are being offered and/or required for graduation across Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts. In addition, the survey identified changes since the first survey of its kind in 2007.

Key Findings

More schools are requiring standalone courses in personal finance for graduation than in 2007; however, the total is still well under 10% of the state’s 500 school districts. 

  • Only 44 of the 584 schools surveyed report requiring a standalone course in personal finance for graduation (7.5%) as opposed to 20 of the 579 responding in 2007 (3.5%).

Students in too many schools have no personal finance instruction offered to them of any kind. 

  • Nearly15% of schools report not offering any courses in personal finance--either as a standalone or as part of another course.  This percentage remains virtually unchanged since the 2007 survey.

Most schools are somewhere in the middle – offering too little to too few.

  • 85% offer some type of integrated or standalone course that may or may not be a graduation requirement.
  • Generally less than 25% of the content in integrated courses is personal finance.
  • Schools report that their elective courses are typically taken by less than 50% of the graduating class.  However, elective standalone courses are seeing an increase in student enrollment.  In 2007, only 2% of schools reported more than three-quarters of their students taking the elective standalone courses in personal finance compared to 15% in 2009.

Courses vary from school-to-school in structure and content.

  • Nearly 75% of standalone courses are taught within a business department.  The remaining 25% are split between social studies, math, family and consumer science and other disciplines.
  • Courses are offered at various grade levels depending on the schools; however, in most cases the courses are focused at the junior and senior grade levels.
  • The topics most frequently taught include banking, budgeting, credit cards and financial decision making.  Less frequently noted topics are consumer rights and responsibilities, buying a house and identity theft.

Personal finance teachers are often lone rangers in their schools and districts, but they are resourceful.

  • 83% of the schools report that standalone courses are taught by a single teacher in their school.  For integrated courses, the percentage drops to 77%.
  • Teachers identified a myriad of resources they are using to teach personal finance.  Over half use guest speakers from their local community and over one-third use no textbook at all, relying instead on a variety of other resources.
  • One and a half times as many teachers are using Your Money's Best Friend, the website of the Pennsylvania Office of Financial Education, as were in 2007.

There are signs that progress is being made to improve financial education.

  • One in four schools report efforts underway to increase the extent to which personal finance is taught - up from one in five in 2007.
  • Respondents in 29 school districts report that personal finance is being considered as a graduation requirement - either as a standalone course or integrated into another.
  • 9% of the standalone personal finance courses are very new - having been in place for less than a year.
  • 21% of schools report partnering with a local financial institution to provide financial education and/or services to students - up from 15% in 2007.

Click here to download the complete 2009 survey.

Click here to download the 2007 survey.

  • Contact the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency
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