Research on the effectiveness of ﬁnancial literacy education has shown mixed results overall, but one analysis found that if a rigorous ﬁnancial education program is carefully implemented, it can improve young adults' credit scores and lower their chances of delinquency.3 And indeed, a scientiﬁc evaluation of the JA Personal Finance Blended Model curriculum in action revealed that students not only learn important concepts, but they are more likely to change their behavior after experiencing the program.
This white paper will examine the need for ﬁnancial literacy education in more detail. It will discuss how JA Personal Finance Blended Model meets this vital need, and it will look at how research indicates the program is giving young people the knowledge and skills they need to take ownership of their economic success.
For instance, 40 percent of American adults don't have enough savings to cover an unexpected $400 expense such as a medical bill or car repair—and 22 percent aren't able to pay all of their bills every month. Only 38 percent of non-retired Americans think their retirement savings are "on track."4
U.S. credit card debt continues to rise, growing from $857 billion in 2013 to $1.03 trillion by the end of 2017.5 Meanwhile, Americans are graduating from college with more student loan debt than ever before. The average student loan debt for those graduating from college in 2017 was $39,400, up 6 percent from the previous year. An estimated 44.2 million Americans have student loan debt totaling$1.48 trillion, and 11 percent of college graduates are delinquent on their student loans.6
Students who learn ﬁnancial literacy are less likely to make poor or risky choices that could get them into trouble with their ﬁnances. In contrast, those with low ﬁnancial literacy are more likely to overextend themselves and carry a credit card balance, and so they end up spending more in interest. They also tend to save or invest less frequently, and they are more likely to have poor credit scores. As a result, they have a harder time achieving their ﬁnancial goals.
Making matters worse is that ﬁnancial decisions are becoming more complicated. Consumers today have many choices for borrowing, investing, and saving their money, and these offerings are becoming increasingly sophisticated. What's more, the ﬁnancial landscape is growing more volatile, with global participants, electronic trading, and many factors that can inﬂuence the markets. For these reasons, it can be challenging to create and implement a sensible personal ﬁnance plan.
When students have a solid understanding of personal ﬁnance principles, they are better equipped to navigate these complex decisions, which sets them up for future success.
U.S. Students Rank Below Average in Financial Literacy
In 2012, nearly 30,000 15-year-olds from 18 countries took part in the ﬁrst large-scale global assessment of students' ﬁnancial literacy. More than one in six students in the United States failed to reach the baseline level of proﬁciency in the exam. Overall, U.S. students fell among the middle of the pack worldwide.
Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) Results
Source: Council for Economic Education, 2012 Survey of the States:
Understanding Financial Literacy through Experiential Learning
Through JA Personal Finance
Blended Model, students learn how the ﬁnancial decisions they make affect their economic well-being. They learn sound money management strategies, and they develop a strong foundation of knowledge about earning, employment, and income; how to budget and save; what it means to manage their credit and debt; consumer protection measures and how to safeguard their identity; smart shopping; risk management; and investing. After experiencing the program, students understand how their personal ﬁnances affect their quality of life.
The program consists of eight 45-minute sessions. Instruction is delivered by a JA volunteer in cooperation with a classroom teacher. The lessons correlate with state standards in social studies, English, and math.
Each class begins with an icebreaker activity, such as a short video clip introducing the lesson. Then, there is a group discussion to get students thinking about the topic. The volunteer presents information to the whole class, and then the session moves into experiential learning, with students working through online activities either one-on-one or in small groups.
When students are learning about credit and debt, for example, there is an online activity in which they assume the role of a bank executive. Students are given proﬁles of ﬁctional people, and they must decide whether they would approve or turn down each person for a loan. Within small groups, students must explain their decisions.
"We try to get students to think like lenders: What does it mean to be credit-worthy?" says Beth Zemble, who helped develop the program for JA. "In the process, students learn what banks are looking for—and how they should manage their own personal ﬁnances in turn."
Schools can implement the program in any grade from 9-12, in a manner that ﬁts in within their local curriculum.
The Role of Volunteers
"I try to stress to students that they are making a series of decisions that will affect the rest of their lives."
What makes JA Personal Finance Blended Model unique is the use of JA volunteers to deliver instruction.
"Our volunteers are community members, many of whom have experience in business or ﬁnance. They are able to share their authentic, real-world experiences as they guide students through the curriculum," says Mary Catherine ("MC") Desrosiers, senior vice president of education and learning technologies for JA.
Junior Achievement has 107 area ofﬁces serving all 50 states, and these ofﬁces match JA's 237,000-plus volunteers with local schools that are interested in implementing the curriculum.
Rick Coleman is a JA volunteer in Tampa, Florida. He received his bachelor's degree in accounting and worked for a large CPA ﬁrm and a natural gas company before spending the bulk of his career as the chief ﬁnancial ofﬁcer for a major supermarket chain. Coleman retired from this position six years ago, and he has been a JA volunteer ever since.
"I was reading horror stories about millennials getting into trouble with their ﬁnances, and so I contacted the local JA ofﬁce to see how I could help," he says. "When you're in high school, you tend to think that you're bulletproof. I try to stress to students that they are making a series of decisions that will affect the rest of their lives."
Like all of JA's volunteers, Coleman shares stories from his own experiences in the world of ﬁnance—and he tries to connect with students using language they can relate to.
"I'll tell students: When you graduate, you're getting a $2.6 million lottery ticket. That's the average earnings of someone in the United States over their lifetime," he says. "You can either invest this money and use it wisely, or waste it and end up broke."
Coleman sees great value in providing these lessons to students. "When I attended high school, I didn't get any of this information," he observes. "No one ever discussed personal ﬁnance with me. It's really a life skill that has been largely ignored by society."
Evidence of Success
An independent evaluation of JA Personal Finance Blended Model conﬁrms that the program is making a difference. Students not only learn important content by participating in the program, but their attitudes toward personal ﬁnance evolve as well, indicating a lasting change in behavior.
Conducted by Cicero Social Impact, the study examined survey and interview data from students, teachers, volunteers, and local JA staff from ﬁve geographic areas.
According to evaluators, teachers and volunteers overwhelmingly agree (93 percent) that the program has a positive impact on students. Eighty-seven percent of teachers and volunteers say the program increases students' ﬁnancial knowledge, and the same percentage agrees that it helps prepare students to make good decisions about their futures.
These ﬁndings were conﬁrmed by examining the effect of the program on students' knowledge and attitudes. The study reveals that 82 percent of students experienced an increase in knowledge over the course of the program, and 89 percent had a more positive attitude about personal ﬁnance after completing it.
For example, here is how students' attitudes toward budgeting changed after they took part in the program:
Impact on Students: Attitudes
Surveys and interviews with teachers and volunteers suggest that the program's blended format helps drive student interest and engagement in the content. "You have to incorporate the technology [that students] utilize to be as effective as you want to be," one volunteer said. "I think it's critical to involve the interactive component in education."
Other statements that teachers and volunteers made about the program include:
"Student knowledge increased noticeably. [One] student said that she could save money over time and buy a car instead of getting her nails done all the time."
"[Students like] the real-world application. They like the parts about making smart decisions about their future."
"It was gratifying to see the students engage with the program content meaningfully. For instance, a couple of students said that they spoke to their parents and shared what they would do about their personal finances."
"Most kids don't understand how credit card debt works. Taking them through what it takes to pay off $10,000 over 30 years was fascinating. It was like a light bulb went off."
A Brighter Future
Financial literacy is a key that unlocks a brighter future for all students. Personal ﬁnance education gives students the information they need to make better decisions about their finances, allowing them to reach their goals more effectively. But numerous sources indicate that many students aren't learning these critical skills before they graduate.
JA Personal Finance Blended Model is helping to ﬁll this need in schools nationwide. The program uses a blend of online and face-to-face instruction, supported by opportunities for experiential learning and aided by volunteers who share their own personal ﬁnance stories. An independent evaluation shows the program has a positive effect on students' behavior, leading them to make more informed choices with their money.
1 OECD, Financial Education in Schools (2012). Retrieved from
2 Council for Economic Education, Survey of the States (2018). Retrieved from
5 Student Loan Hero, "Credit Card and Household Debt Statistics—the Latest for 2018." Retrieved from
6 Student Loan Hero, "A Look at the Shocking Student Loan Debt Statistics for 2018." Retrieved from
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