High school students enrolled in the Nebraska NEST Financial Scholars online program made great strides toward improving their financial literacy during the 2014-2015 school year.
The program, founded in 2013 by State Treasurer Don Stenberg, was created out of concern that high school students were graduating without a basic understanding of different financial situations.
“As the chief financial officer of the state, and as a father and grandfather, I felt a responsibility to help improve the financial knowledge of our Nebraska high school students, and hopefully improve their financial skills heading into the future” Stenberg said Wednesday morning during a presentation at Educational Services Unit 2 in Fremont.
The NEST Financial Scholars online program is sponsored by the Nebraska Educational Savings Trust, a division of the treasurer's office. Stenberg is trustee of NEST, the state’s 529 college savings program which has more than 230,000 accounts nationwide, include 69,000 in Nebraska, information in a press release says.
The trust has more than $3.75 billion in assets.
During the 2014-2015 school year, 101 Nebraska schools participated and 4,811 students were reached. The online program, developed by EverFi Inc. of Washington, D.C., features nine modules of instruction and takes around eight hours to complete.
Nebraska students completed a total of 26,074 modules during last school year, and over the program's past two years, the total number of students reached is 7,025 and the total numbers of modules completed is 39,390.
Most impressively, students recorded an average knowledge growth of 61 percent from the time they started the program to the time they completed it, Stenberg said. This was based off of a pre-assessment and post-assessment.
“The results are in one word, outstanding,” Stenberg said.
While NEST sponsors many schools around the state, in some communities, local banks sponsor the EverFi program, he said.
Fremont is one of these communities.
With sponsorship from First State Bank and Trust, students at both Fremont and Archbishop Bergan high schools received the educational tool.
Local support is always important, Stenberg said, not only because it shows that the organization cares about the well-being of students in a community, but also because it shows what they have to offer from a financial standpoint.
“It’s very important, and frankly, I think it’s a great way for a financial institute or a stock brokerage office to sponsor something that is going to relate to their business,” Stenberg said. “I think some of the banks that are participating around the states see this as a good way to introduce their banking services to students while they learn about financial literacy.”
In addition to the overall 61 percent growth in financial literacy, Stenberg touched on a few key areas of improvement within the modules.
In the subject area of renting vs. owning, Stenberg said that students’ average knowledge gain was 107 percent. Other subject areas that showed drastic improvement were financing higher education, 88 percent knowledge gain, and investing, an 81 percent knowledge gain.
Stenberg believes that financial literacy must continue to be pushed into high school curriculum — it’s something that students will lean on their entire lives, he said.
While recent efforts have been made to increase vocational education around the state, the same push needs to be made to heighten financial awareness, he said.
“One of the things about financial literacy is that it’s something that every student will use,” Stenberg said. “Whether they have their own business, go to work for a wage somewhere or even if they decide to be a stay-at-home parent, they need to know how to budget, they need to understand credit, banking options, insurance, taxes and internet security...
"Some of the courses you take in high school, you probably won’t put that knowledge to use depending what your career is, but no matter what you do, you will need financial literacy skills.”