Financial versus Mathematical literacy

It is rare when I actually take the time to read Baylor’s student newspaper, the Baylor Lariat, and even rarer when I post a critical response to a Lariat article. However, I couldn’t resist commenting on an editorial from earlier this month entitled, “Baylor should implement class to ready students for real world”. In this editorial, the members of the Lariat editorial board opine that Baylor should require a one-hour credit “Life Skills” course in lieu of a basic math course such as “Ideas in Mathematics”. Basically, such a course would be designed to cover very basic personal finance principles, such as budgeting, paying off student loans, buying insurance, saving for retirement, etc. I think this is a manifestly bad idea; let me explain why.

While I am not aware of an empirical literature concerning mandated personal finance courses at colleges and universities, many states have experimented with personal finance and minimum math requirements at the high school level. A recent (2014) Harvard Business School working paper entitled “High School Curriculum and Financial Outcomes: The Impact of Mandated Personal Finance and Mathematics Courses” provides a thorough empirical analysis of personal finance and minimum math requirements and finds that mandated personal finance courses at the high school level do little to improve outcomes that are generally associated with financial literacy (e.g., such as building wealth through asset accumulation, prudent credit management, etc.), whereas “… individuals who were exposed to greater math requirements in high school are more likely to accumulate assets, have more real estate equity, are less likely to be delinquent on their loans, and are less likely to undergo foreclosure.”