With the school year underway and families preparing students to pursue their educational goals, there's a lot to be grateful for. Minnesota teachers are creative and enthusiastic and our schools are focused on every student's success.
Nonetheless, as we consider educational outcomes, there are worries, as well. Here are some statistics that concern me:
• Teens across the country spend $91 billion annually on everything from computer games to athletic shoes, but very few have saved for college.
• Nearly 70 percent of students don't know how credit card fees work and only 59 percent pay their bills on time.
• Student loan debt balances amounted to $1.2 trillion last year, and 81 percent of students underestimate the time it will take to pay off their loans.
Other numbers trouble me, as well: 63 percent of CEOs in the U.S. are concerned about finding skilled professionals capable of fulfilling the positions to meet their business needs and compete in the global marketplace over the coming decades.
To develop these skills, students need to consider how to obtain postsecondary training or a college degree. Yet, in Minnesota large numbers of students will be poorly prepared academically or financially to pursue a college education or postsecondary training. Many perform below grade level in basic skills, which will affect their chances of succeeding in school and pursuing higher education; and many do not understand what it will take to pay for a college education.
Our state's education leaders have worked together to include economics and personal financial literacy in state education standards. Yet, despite the evident need for financial education, 80 percent of K-12 teachers in the U.S. say they do not feel prepared to teach financial concepts or information.
Despite the dismal evidence, here lies a 360-degree opportunity for our organizations. The first step in the cycle: Employers can give back to the communities where we live and work by providing financial literacy education and programs in schools, and collaborating with nonprofit organizations.
The next step: Employers must support development of the workforce we'll rely on going forward to enable our businesses and communities to thrive. We close the circle: Our colleagues have opportunities to pursue their personal sense of purpose — millennials tell us that making a difference in the world matters to them as much as contributing to their organization's bottom line.
In Minnesota, we have a big advantage. The Twin Cities have always demonstrated ingenuity, innovation and entrepreneurship, and our business leaders across diverse industries have consistently committed substantial financial and human resources to our schools and neighborhoods. Our business leaders are inspired community leaders, and many organizations have come together to help our students succeed, including the Minnesota Council on Economic Education and Junior Achievement, among many others.
We have a big responsibility as well. Last year, the Minnesota Education Commissioner reported that the achievement gap in Minnesota schools was among the worst in the nation. The education achievement gap is reflected in the wealth gap. In the U.S., the average wealth of white families is seven times that of black families and six times that of Latino families. In Minnesota, adults with bachelor's degrees earn annual salaries more than double those of adults who have only a high school diploma. The gap has started to narrow, but there is much work to be done.
I'm confident that our organizations, colleagues and students are up to the challenge. Since PwC launched Earn Your Future more than three years ago, 82 percent of Twin Cities PwC employees have participated in the program by volunteering more than 6,000 hours toward financial literacy.
Students have stepped up, too. PwC colleagues who spent one day every week over two months in area high schools (South High School, Thomas Edison High School, Plymouth Youth Center, Patrick Henry High School) reported that students were skeptical at first, but not for long. When asked how to define "take-home pay" (you mean I don't get all of it?) and shown how to develop a realistic monthly budget based on an assessment of the actual salaries for careers they wanted to pursue, students were eager to participate. When asked how they would manage funds remaining after deductions and expenses, no matter how small, they responded, "Save!"
Our PwC volunteers were thrilled: "There's hope!" And I believe there is hope, given the volunteer work of PwC employees and the collaborative efforts of agencies and organizations across our state.
State demographic professionals have confirmed what many of us know — labor force shortages will take full effect within the next five-to-10 years in Minnesota. There's still time to turn this trend around — a 360-degree solution. Minnesota — and our nation's — employers must intensify efforts to support the training of a future pool of qualified workers to meet our increasingly complex global business needs and demands. We can — and must — complete the circle when it comes to financial literacy.