Urban Debate student and judge

A financial literacy debate from Central High School shakes hands with a volunteer judge.

Guest post by Ella Reiswig, MNUDL Intern

They say money makes the world go round. Yet, while so much of our society is shaped by money, financial education isn’t something that is widely taught about in most school’s around the US. In fact, only 5 states in the US require that students take one financial literacy course before graduation. While one class is better than no class, that is simply dipping your toes into the pool. For students that come from low-income backgrounds, this gap is even more visible. At schools where over 75% of students were eligible for free or reduced-cost lunches, only 4% were required to take a personal finance class to graduate. While students from families with generational wealth receive informal financial literacy in their homes, others are excluded from this crucial knowledge.

Ironically enough, a large reason why financial education isn’t taught in schools is due to lack of funding. Teachers would need to go through extra training and perhaps there is a lack of staffing in order to be able to provide these courses for students. However, the evidence shows that financial literacy courses are worth the investment. 


Research shows that the students who receive financial education have better success rates later for financial subjects (i.e. loans, credit, saving), and that those who lack the education have consequently struggled more with finances. Studies from Purdue University show that by the age of 3, kids can grasp basic concepts about money, and by age 7 they have formed financial habits. With understanding coming at such a young age, students need to be taught the fundamentals of proper financial education. 

In a one survey study, those who had taken financial literacy courses during high school reported taking out lower-interest loans. While they may have borrowed more than those who didn’t take out as much, this allowed the students to focus solely on school, rather than working, which in turn showed higher graduation rates. This same age range of students were shown to have better credit scores after taking just one course on personal finances. Bringing the point even further, for those that hadn’t taken a financial literacy course in high school, 53% said that money contributed to more stress than other factors during university. These effects simply touch on life directly after high school, but imagine the depth that this gap has the potential to grow for so many people later on into adulthood.

In particular, young women face more obstacles. Allianz Life’s 2019 Women, Money, and Power Study, found that while women have come a long way professionally, they are struggling to make progress with financial literacy. Between the gender pay gap and the need for women’s retirement planning, women often face more financial challenges by the end of their lives. This gap is even more prominent for women of color. Early financial education can’t solve all these issues, but it can inform and equip women to face these disproportionate obstacles.

Our Solution

Now, the question is… “How can we do our part to play a role in closing this gap?” Here at the MNUDL, we have developed a debate program known as the Financial Literacy Leadership Debate Program, that caters to specifically women and non-binary students. We believe that the first step is education, and in this program, students learn the basics to financial literacy. Additionally, these students are able to use what they have learned and take it a step further by researching other financial decisions, such as taking out student loans. Our program makes financial literacy engaging, relevant, and fun through competition.  

Our program also connects young women and nonbinary students with women who lead in finance. Across financial industries, only 9-11% of people in management positions are women! The women leaders in our debate program speak with students about how they made their way into the field. We hope they can inspire up-and-coming leaders in our own schools, helping them picture themselves in high-paying, impactful roles in the finance sector. 

This program was inspired by other UDL’s in NYC, Chicago, and the Bay area, where financial literacy increased by 35% after implementation. We believe, and the statistics show, that our program serves purpose in closing the financial literacy gap.

If you are interested in becoming a judge for the Financial Literacy Leadership Debate Program, reach out to Amy at cramhe@augsburg.edu for more information!