Utah students among nation's most financially savvy

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The Salt Lake Tribune
By: Lisa Schnencker
May 3, 2010

Layoffs.

Mortgage debacles.

Bailouts.

For some Americans, the last couple years have seemed like a financial apocalypse. But in Utah, there's at least one shiny coin of hope for the future: students here know their stuff.

Utah students scored fifth-highest in the country on this year's National Financial Capability Challenge, a test that measures financial knowledge. More than 750 Utah students who took the optional test scored an average of 76.8 percent -- higher than the national average of 70 percent.

"Obviously, it could always be higher, but it does show that here in Utah, our students are learning these financial concepts, and hopefully, it's sinking in a little bit so financially Utah will be doing better in the long run," said Kristy Yeschick, a financial literacy teacher at Copper Hills High School who gave her students the test.

More of Yeschick's students scored in the top 20 percent of students nationwide than in any other school in the state. Janet Woodward, a financial literacy teacher at Bingham High School, who also had a number of students score in the top 20 percent, credits Utah's requirement that all students take financial literacy before graduating from high school for the state's relative success in the challenge.

"Across the country, they may learn at home and they may not," Woodward said.

Nationwide, Utah is one of only 13 states that requires students to take a financial literacy or personal finance course to graduate. It's a requirement Utah lawmakers passed into law earlier this decade after the state led the nation in personal bankruptcy filings.

Leaders of the U.S. Department of Education, which sponsored the national challenge with the U.S. Department of the Treasury, said students nationwide still have much to learn, as evidenced by the national average of 70 percent on the challenge.

"I'm so proud that so many teachers turned out to help teach students the basics of personal finance," said Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, in a news release. "But the low scores on these test show us that, when it comes to financial literacy, we've got a lot more work to do to get our students where they need to be.

Many of Yeschick's concurrent enrollment financial literacy students, who spent Monday learning about identity theft, said they also worry that nationwide students don't know enough about finances. Some of Yeschick's students called the challenge test "easy" and "common sense."

But many said they have learned a lot from their financial literacy class, including how to save money, how the stock market works and how to invest cash. Students have played stock market games with virtual dollars, learned how to eventually move out of their parents' homes and how to do taxes. Yeschick, who has been teaching financial literacy for seven years, said she has seen students take more interest in the lessons since the recession began.

"I'd advise everybody to take this class," said junior Sam Strong, who scored in the top 20 percent on the test. "It can save you from making huge mistakes in the future."

"It's probably one of the most important classes of your life," said junior Nick Jeppson, who also scored in the top 20 percent.

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