Augustana University is an institution that prides itself on providing students a liberal arts education to craft them into well-rounded members of the world community. The SOPHIA program was implemented to further this goal.
However, there is one area of study that Augustana University, as well as most schools in the United States, have largely ignored: financial education.
History of American financial education
Considerations of financial education have been a part of American culture since its inception. It was on the minds of the founding fathers, particularly Benjamin Franklin.
In his autobiography, Franklin lists Thirteen Virtues that he believed would lead people to become successful. One of them was frugality. Franklin wrote, “Beware of thinking all your own that you possess, and of living accordingly. It is a mistake that many people who have credit fall into. To prevent this, keep an exact account for some time, both of our expenses and your income.”
Despite the importance that some of the founding fathers placed on financial education in the U.S., it has been largely neglected by later generations. The Council for Economic Education lists benchmarks that students at each level of education are expected to meet.
For example, by the end of high school, students should be able to “Explain why taking a safe-driving course can lower an auto insurance premium and why not smoking can lower a health insurance premium,” according to the 2013 National Standards of Financial Literacy.
However, in his article, “Financial Literacy Education Lags in U.S. High Schools,” Lauren Williams, the current Products Editor of University Business and District Administration establishes that high schools in several states fall short in meeting acceptable levels of financial literacy. Williams writes, “half of U.S. states fail to provide adequate financial literacy education in high schools, according to a report released by Champlain College’s Center for Financial Literacy [ . . . ].” If so much financial illiteracy is allowed to continue, what effect will it have on the lives of future Americans?
Currently at Augustana
Augustana is no less guilty of being a part of this trend.
Augustana’s SOPHIA general education requirements cover a wide variety of subjects from science to fine arts; however, financial education is not one of them. Of course, Augustana offers financial courses like accounting and economics, but even so, not many students take them.
For instance, Personal Financial Stewardship is offered as an option to fulfill the well-being section of the SOPHIA plan. The course provides practical knowledge about financial planning throughout an individual’s life. It is the only business class offered to fulfill the well-being requirement section.
Although Career and Life Planning, a course that teaches students how to develop skills to improve their career paths, is offered to fulfill this section, it does not put as much emphasis on financial education as Personal Financial Stewardship.
The other courses currently offered in the section include communications, psychology, health, physical education and diversity-oriented courses. Although these courses all have their place, that leaves Principles of Economics I as the only course out of 10 that offers students a chance to learn how to make the most out of their finances. The other requirement sections of the SOPHIA plan offer virtually no other financial-oriented classes to fulfill them.
Why should Augustana prioritize financial education?
At Augustana, we may not be able to control what the school systems across the country decide to do, but we can decide what we do.
Considering the important role finances play in the lives of individuals and the overall American culture, why wouldn’t we make it a priority, even if the majority of the American educational system does not? Why not make at least one financial course a requirement for students? Some may not like the prospect of yet another requirement on the SOPHIA plan; however, there are certainly payoffs.
For example, financial courses like Personal Financial Stewardship could help students learn how best to manage their college loans, a skill that, I am sure, many students would appreciate having. Also, the criticism that some have that the liberal arts program at Augustana does not adequately give students practical, real-world skills, could be more easily discredited if financial education was made a priority.
The way the current SOPHIA plan is set up begs the question: how can the students of Augustana truly be well-rounded members of the world community if they are not properly educated in finance?