Institute of Consumer
Financial Education
Institute of Consumer
Financial Education

Results of the 2008 National Jump$tart Coalition Survey of High School and College Students

The 2008 national Jump$tart survey of high school seniors was the sixth such biennial survey and completed the first ten years of measuring financial literacy in the United States. In 2008, the Jump$tart Coalition also conducted its first national survey designed to measure the financial literacy of college students. The two surveys present contrasting results. The financial literacy of high school students has fallen to its lowest level ever, with a score of just 48.3 percent. The average score for college students on the same 31 question exam, however, was 62.2 percent, nearly 15 percentage points above that of high school seniors. In fact, if measured on the high school senior base of 48.3 percent, college students actually did nearly 29 percent better.

In addition, scores improved for every year of college with seniors averaging 64.8 percent. The good news is that American college graduates are close to being financially literate and probably will be so with more life experience. The bad news is that just 25 percent of our young adults are graduating from college and this number appears to have stabilized. This means that 75 percent of young American adults are likely to lack the skills needed to make beneficial financial decisions.

The positive turnaround in high school financial literacy scores, first noted in the 2004 survey, continued only through 2006. Beginning with an average score of 57.3 percent in 1997, scores fell to 51.9 percent in 2000 and 50.2 percent in 2002 before staging a rebound to 52.3 percent in 2004. In 2006, the mean score increased by a tenth of a percent to 52.4 percent before falling to 48.3 percent in 2008.

When the Jump$tart Coalition® for Personal Financial Literacy first began measuring financial literacy eleven years ago, the term was literally unknown. Today, hundreds of organizations promote financial literacy, members of Congress introduce bills supporting it, a Federal commission promotes it, many states have passed initiatives and serious scholarly work is being published.

We have long noted with dismay that students who take a high school course in personal finance tend to do no better on our exam than those who do not. This finding has been a great disappointment to consumer educators and to those who support efforts to make courses in personal finance a requirement for high school graduation, and it points to the need for better materials and teacher training.

The 2008 high school survey found that nearly half of students who had taken a full semester course in personal financial management were not seniors when they took the course. In fact, many were freshmen and sophomores at the time and probably lacked exposure to many financial decisions and whose motivation to become financially literate must be questioned.

Not only did college students prove to be far more financially literate than high school seniors, those high school seniors who planned to attend a four-year college did much better on our exam than others. In fact, those who had no post-high school plans averaged just 34.9 percent while those who planned to attend a junior college averaged 44.6 percent and those headed to a four-year college averaged 50.9 percent. Note that the large number of students who drop out of high school before their senior year are not measured in our exams but are presumed to be far less financially literate than those still in school. There are still many important concepts that are not getting through to the next generation.

For more info visit JumpStart.org