Prepare Students for the New Economy
It used to be called Home Ec. For many students, it was an important opportunity to learn the basics of daily life as an adult: how to balance a checkbook, manage a budget, conduct themselves in social situations, understand nutrition, and take care of themselves effectively. Over time, this idea has been fractured and diminished or pushed aside in order to make more time for core classes subject to standardized testing. It's time for a reboot of this old idea that prepares today's students for tomorrow's challenges, lending them the skills necessary to navigate a changing world.
In the past, many new graduates started and finished their careers with the same companies, working their way up the ladder and reaping the benefits of their loyalty in the form of long-term defined benefits like pensions. Those days are gone, and not coming back.
Today, many new graduates will stick with their first job for two years or less, and are best able to find increases in compensation not by staying with their company over time, but by leveraging their skills and experience to move elsewhere. This free agent mentality is increasingly being applied to both sides of work: 1 in 5 jobs are held on a contract basis today, and contractors and freelancers could make up half of the US workforce by 2030. In this environment, it's essential that our students learn how to manage the company that will matter most throughout their career: their Company of One.
We must make significant strides in increasing the financial literacy of our students. This begins with the basics of money management: how to create a household budget, how to understand credit card terms and interest rates, how to understand the relationship between monthly payment and total cost when purchasing a home or automobile. It also means being able to analyze the return on investment for their time: what's the expected benefit of attending that expensive private university to study a certain subject, and is it high enough to justify the loans that student might have to take on along the way?
It means understanding how healthcare works: how plan benefits can be compared, how students can estimate the cost of purchasing their own insurance, how to estimate what a company might be paying on their behalf as part of a benefits package, and what consequences might come with not adequately shielding oneself from unexpected healthcare costs.
Students should learn the basics of entrepreneurship: how to evaluate a business model, how to understand the differences between corporate structures and how to start a company, how self-employment taxes work, and how to navigate the permits and regulations that might be necessary to start common kinds of businesses.
We should teach students how to manage their online identity and the impact that their online footprint can have on their future prospects. Students should learn how to use these tools to find new opportunities, rather than find themselves eliminated from contention for their dream job by an employer's Google search. This also includes building an effective resume that they can curate as they gain more skills and experience over time.
Students should gain skills in media literacy in order to better understand and evaluate the world around them. Claims are easy to make, but what data backs them up? Being able to parse today's confusing and fractured media environment is essential to fostering an informed and engaged citizenry.
The underlying skills necessary to grasp these concepts are ones students already need to be working on in order to meet state standards: math and reading. Finding the marginal profit on a new product idea is really just an exercise in simple algebra, while closely reading a long-form feature speculating on the ramifications of a new scientific breakthrough sharpens reading comprehension skills.
These classes can be tailored to make required subjects more relevant and accessible to students, while showing them how to put these skills to use. Today's students won't just be taking jobs: they'll be creating them, for themselves and others, whether by starting a company of their own, or by leveraging their skills to ensure they're always partnering with an employer that most highly values their impact.