Community Dividend

High schoolers' financial literacy remains low, survey finds

Published September 1, 2008  | September 2008 issue

The financial literacy of high school seniors in the U.S. remains low and declined slightly over the last two years, according to a biennial survey conducted by the Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy (Jump$tart) and funded by the Merrill Lynch Foundation.

The survey consisted of 31 multiple-choice questions on topics such as credit cards, savings, investments, insurance, and mortgages, plus a series of 25 additional questions about students' socioeconomic backgrounds, academic interests, and financial habits. Jump$tart surveyed nearly 5,900 twelfth graders in 40 states and also conducted an identical survey among more than 1,000 full-time college students nationwide.

On average, the high school respondents answered just 48.3 percent of the survey questions correctly—a decrease from the 2006 survey's already low average of 52.4 percent. As in previous survey years, the average score for 2008 corresponds to a failing grade of F on a typical academic scale. White students had an average score of 52.5 percent, while Hispanic and African American students scored lower, averaging 45 percent and 41.3 percent, respectively. Students who scored 27 or better on the ACT college entrance examination answered 59 percent of the questions correctly, on average, while students scoring 20 or below on the ACT had an average score of 43 percent.

According to state-specific results of the high school survey, students in four of the six states in the Ninth Federal Reserve District scored better than the national average. Twelfth graders in Wisconsin had an average score of 57 percent. Average scores for South Dakota, Michigan, and Minnesota were 54.9 percent, 54.5 percent, and 53.1 percent, respectively. (Survey results for Montana and North Dakota are not available.)

College-level participants outperformed their high school counterparts by answering 62 percent of the survey questions correctly, on average. Still, their comparatively high score corresponds to a failing grade on an academic scale. When grouped by class year, the results show that the level of financial literacy climbs slightly higher with each successive year in college. The average score for freshmen was 59 percent, while the average scores for sophomores, juniors, and seniors were 61 percent, 62 percent, and 65 percent, respectively. On average, white college students scored 63.3 percent of the questions correctly, Hispanic college students scored 59.8 percent, and African American college students scored 55.3 percent.

To view detailed survey results, visit and click on "Downloads."