MANSFIELD -- Jay Miller’s life would likely look a lot different if it weren’t for an elective course he took in high school.
As a junior at Ontario, Miller signed up for a business and finance course. Looking back, he believes the course opened his eyes to the possibilities that exist beyond a 9-to-5 job.
“I've always had an entrepreneurial drive, but (that class) gave me the knowledge I needed to act on it,” said Miller, CEO of DRM Productions. “I think I would have been a lot more hesitant and fearful if I didn't have that knowledge.”
The class Miller took wasn’t just aimed at entrepreneurs -- he also recalls learning a lot of basic personal finance concepts.
“It went through everything from budgeting, checkbooks, investing, how to start a business, business tips,” he said. “That is the only class in all of school that I remember vividly.”
Despite its apparent practicality, Ohio and many other states don’t require high school students to take a personal finance course to graduate.
According to the Council for Economic Education’s 2020 Survey of the States, 21 states require high school students to take a course in personal finance and 25 require a course in economics.
Ohio requires neither.
Edward Akinyemi, an entrepreneur and Lucas resident, thinks schools should be doing more to teach students about personal finance.
While working as research and development coordinator at the North End Community Improvement Collaborative, Akinyemi was surprised at the recurring need for credit repair and financial coaching among the communities he served.
“I don't think it's a radical statement to say that the purpose of education is to prepare kids for adult life,” Akinyemi said. “I thought, ‘Why is it the responsibility of nonprofits to help people go through financial literacy courses or to help them go through credit repair? It doesn't make sense.”
"It just breaks my heart just to see a few wrong decisions that people make in their younger years, how much that impacts ability to build credit," he added.
With that question in mind, Akinyemi launched The Financial Literacy Movement, a website advocating for a financial literacy course requirement in every American high school.
Akinyemi hopes his movement will inspire discussion and a grassroots movement. He urges visitors to his site to write to their local and state boards of education, state representatives and senators and the federal Secretary of Education in support of financial literacy education.
“A pet peeve of mine is just kind of social media activism thing -- click “like,” now we've done our job. No, it doesn't end there,” he said. “It's useful, but true democracy is that engagement between legislators and people.”
Akinyemi isn’t alone in his quest. National organizations like the Council for Economic Education and Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy have similar goals.
Miller said he would support a course requirement.
“I think that it would put so many people ahead in life. If you don’t get that from family, I don’t know where else I would have gotten it," he said.
Ohio’s public schools are required to teach financial literacy standards, but not to offer a separate course dedicated to them. Thus, financial literacy concepts are usually incorporated into math or social studies courses.
“Essentially, Ohio’s education structure places a great deal of emphasis on local control, meaning that while instruction regarding financial literacy as a graduation requirement for Ohio students, local districts determine how best to meet that requirement for their students,” explained Mandy Minick, chief communications officer for the Ohio Department of Education.
According to Minick, there’s no statewide assessment tied to financial literacy.
Principal Sean Conway of Madison Comprehensive High School said the school offers a personal finance elective, but the state’s financial standards are also covered during a required American government course.
“Our teachers spend a great deal of time within the American government curriculum addressing financial literacy,” he said.
Ontario High School requires all students to take an economics course which includes content on personal finance, said Mike Ream, director of education for Ontario Local Schools.
Conway said a financial literacy course requirement would be beneficial for students, but incorporating such a requirement may mean more than simply adding a class to the roster. Schools would have to make sure students could fit the course into their schedule without it interfering with other requirements or electives. It could also create a need for extra staffing, depending on a school’s size.
A bill that would require a half-credit course on financial literacy for high school students was introduced in the Ohio Senate in January and is currently being reviewed by the primary and secondary education committee.
Senator Mark Romanchuk said the legislature has considered other bills regarding financial literacy requirements in the past.
“This is not a new subject. This is a subject that's been around for several general assemblies since I've been in Columbus," he said.
“I would say it probably does have a shot to make it to floor, but I don't know for certain what the odds of that are," he said, noting that one of the bill's primary sponsors is Majority Whip Rob McColley.
Romanchuk declined to speculate on whether the bill would pass. He also said he'd have to look closer at the legislation before deciding whether he would vote for or against it.
"There's current law that addresses financial literacy. The question is, is that getting the job done?" he said. “I think it is a life skill that everybody should have. In the old days that was taught by the parents at home."
Mark Masters, president of Mechanics Bank, and Chris Hiner, a division president at Park National Bank, agreed that parents play a critical role in teaching children about personal finances. Modeling good spending habits and teaching kids to save can help build solid financial practices.
"Don't be afraid to talk about finances," Hiner said. "Sometimes it needs to be said multiple times in various ways before it sinks in.”
Local banks can be a resource for parents and children alike to boost their financial literacy. Both Park National and Mechanics offer free financial counseling for clients of any age.
Nevertheless, Masters and Hiner both believe a high school personal finance course would be beneficial.
“I think a requirement for a personal financial course is a great idea," Hiner said. "I don’t think you can over-teach something like personal finance.”
Both men noted an increased interest in higher-risk investments and day trading among young adults, which makes access to reliable information all the more important.
"There are people that took tremendous risk, jumping on that bandwagon because people on the internet said, 'Let's go after this. We can't lose,'" Masters said regarding the GameStop day trading incident in January. "Well, for every winner there was a loser and some of them lost their life savings.
"Trusting everything you read on the internet can be dangerous."