Personal Finance for Students in Higher Education

By Delana Miller
Assistant Director of Accounting, ASUN Center for Student Engagement

Today’s students have access to purchase virtually anything with just a few clicks.  Whether it’s via mobile apps or online shopping, spending money has never been easier.  This proves all too true for acquiring credit cards as well.  With access to credit, the ease of spending, and the subsequent ease of accumulating debt, do students really understand the basics of personal finance and the impact of credit? Do they know the importance of establishing (and adhering to) a budget for their spending habits throughout their college years?

These questions arose after a conversation with a group of our student employees.  We were discussing their spending behaviors (e.g. how they pay for necessities like books and housing and how they cover wants/unnecessary purchases like new clothes or entertainment). To my surprise, they stated that the majority of their unnecessary (wants) expenses were covered with credit cards.  When I asked if they were aware of the impact of credit card usage on their credit score, I received blank stares in response.  These juniors and seniors were unaware of the meaning of a credit score.  Their questions included: “What is a credit score? Why do I need to know my credit score?”

This conversation concerned me and had me wondering about the extent of responsibility higher education may or may not bear for providing sound personal finance education.  Sadly, the days of “HomeEc” (home economics) may be long gone in certain areas of this country.  According to the Council for Economics Education (2016), only 17 states require a personal finance class in K-12 education.  While access to higher education may also offer personal finance or economics course, some schools may on provide this education as an elective or may even be out of reach for some students due to their declared major.  Yet there is much research that supports early exposure to personal finance concepts has a positive effect on money management skills for student (Huddleston, Danes, & Boyce, 1999).

For example, Peng, et al. (2007) argued that students who participated in personal finance courses in high school or college were more knowledgeable of investments. Robb (2011) concluded that students with greater knowledge of personal finance were more likely to be responsible in their credit usage.  Robb (2011) went on to argue that college students with little to no knowledge of personal finance may be at higher risk for adverse economic effects of irresponsible credit utilization.

While we prepare students for professional careers, should we also bear some responsibility for preparing students for personal success and financial independence?

The answer is YES!


Council for Economic Education. (2016). Survey of the States: The state of K–12 economic and financial education in the United States. Retrieved from
Danes, S. M., Huddleston-Casas, C., & Boyce, L. (1999). Financial planning curriculum for teens: Impact evaluation. Journal of Financial Counseling and Planning, 10(1), 26.
Peng, T.-C. M. (2007). The Impact of Personal Finance Education Delivered in High School and College Courses. Journal of Family & Economic Issues, 28(2), 265–284. doi:10.1007/s10834-007-9058-7
Robb, C. A. (2011). Financial Knowledge and Credit Card Behavior of College Students. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 32(4), 690–698. doi:10.1007/s10834-011-9259-y


  1. Delana Miller, thank you for posting on the importance of personal finance for our students!

    College is an ideal time to gain personal and economic independence. Financially literate individuals have the flexibility to invest in their education, expand their businesses and contribute to their community’s economic stability. Students must realize that financial knowledge is just as important as a college education — it is one topic they cannot afford to neglect.

    To ensure we have the strongest, most competitive graduates entering the workforce we are taking the first steps in raising the financial literacy among our students through the Nevada Money Mentor program. Housed in the Financial Aid & Scholarships Office, the Nevada Money Mentors are building capability, empowering our students, and helping them each achieve not just financial success but overall success in their lives.

    Please refer students who want to host a personal finance workshop, schedule a 1:1 financial coaching session, or those looking for additional resources to:

    Thank you again Delana!

      • Jennifer –
        Last year through presentations, workshops, tabling events, and financial coaching we served over 2,000 students! Thanks to discussions like these we hope to increase our outreach year over year and help our students become more financially savvy.

  2. Delana,

    Your observations and conversations with students are spot on, and honestly terrifying. Many students (and many post-college adults for that matter) don’t understand a basic budget and allocating where their income goes. Credit cards and even student loans are a slippery slope when they are used for wants versus needs. Amy Nelson mentioned above one on one coaching she and the Nevada Money Mentors offer. I wish there were more financial education opportunities offered or even better required for middle school and high school students.

    • Diana,

      Your comment about the post-college adults is so true. I believe this is a systemic issue. We, as a society, have not created an environment in which people feel comfortable talking about money. This social norm to avoid discussing money in an effort to be “polite” has been infused in our education system. But I do think millennials are moving toward being more intentional about their money management.

      Perhaps setting a Personal Finance class as a graduation requirement might help reduce the number of graduates who are not #adulting well. 🙂

  3. Delana, I think your next blog should be to define “adulting well.” 🙂

    On a more serious note, I wonder how much our cultural discomfort talking about money is due to wage discrimination. Pay secrecy certainly supports wage discrimination and there is evidence for that link, but what I wonder is whether or not that economic association helped create this cultural condition of discomfort with talking about money. And, without getting too deep into exploitative economic relationships, if that is true (if wage discrimination caused our cultural financial incompetence), will increasing student financial literacy help dismantle such discrimination?

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