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Mississippi students beat national scores for financial literacy
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Efforts to increase financial literacy among Mississippi's high school students are beginning to pay off.
National surveys were conducted in 1997, 2000, 2002 and 2004 for the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy by Lewis Mandell, a professor of finance at the University of Buffalo School of Management. The survey demonstrates students' aptitude and ability to manage financial resources such as credit cards, insurance, retirement funds and savings accounts.
To have state-specific information included in the results, at least 10 randomly selected schools are required to participate in the survey. Mississippi's results were included in the report for the first time this year, along with those of 11 other states that met the survey requirements.
The results show Mississippi's high school seniors answered 53.3 percent of financial questions correctly, compared to a national average of 52.3 percent.
"Mississippi is witnessing an improvement in student achievement regarding life skills needed to make good, sound, responsible financial decisions," said Julie McAdory, Mississippi Jump$tart state president. "Unfortunately, from a national perspective, the average grade scored by students is still disappointingly low."
Key to helping students increase their financial literacy is to continue offering courses in schools that emphasize the importance of goal-setting, budgeting, saving and other principles of the financial planning process.
"The best way to increase financial literacy is to educate in communities and in schools," said Susan Cosgrove, family resource management agent with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. "We need to teach parents basic personal financial literacy so they can help their children learn these lessons."
Jump$tart offers Money Matters seminars that train Mississippi high school teachers to provide personal finance instruction in their classrooms. Cosgrove said interest is high among teachers of all disciplines. Eleventh- and 12th-grade students also attend these Money Matters seminars, where they hear about various financial issues from speakers.
"The MSU Extension Service offers resources that teachers in all grades and many subjects can incorporate into their classes, especially math, business, economics, social studies and computer classes," Cosgrove said. "Teachers need more than a lecture and a textbook to keep the students' attention, so we offer interactive resources with great activities to conduct in the classroom."
The Jump$tart survey, conducted in December, January and February, is a written 45-minute examination administered to 4,074 seniors in 215 high schools across the United States. The survey's underwriter was Merrill Lynch.
The questionnaire revealed a positive impact on students attending required money management courses in high school. Of those students who took a full semester of money management courses, the students who were required to take the classes scored better (54.1 percent) than those who took the classes as electives (52.7 percent).
"It's great that Congress is requiring students be offered personal finance classes, but we also need legislation that requires personal finance classes be taught -- not just offered -- to every Mississippi student," Cosgrove said. "There's a big difference in simply offering a course and requiring that it be taken."
The survey results show factors that affect personal financial literacy in young people. For instance, the students surveyed indicated they learn most of their money management skills from their parents. Of the students surveyed, 58.3 percent said skills are learned at home, versus 19.5 percent who said they learn such skills at school and 17.6 percent from experience.
Students whose parents have college degrees performed better, as did students who plan to attend college themselves. Students who said they had a savings and/or checking account with a bank also scored higher (55.5 percent) than students without any bank account (47.4 percent).
Gender played virtually no role in performance. Race and geographical region, however, did play a role: the average score for Caucasian students was 55.5 percent, compared to 48.3 percent for Asian Americans, 48.3 percent for Hispanics, 46.7 percent for Native Americans and 44 percent for African Americans. Students from the Northeast scored higher (56.5 percent) than students from the Midwest (52.4 percent), the West (52.2 percent) and the South (49.9 percent).