Systemic Poverty, Dropout Rates & Financial Literacy

prosperbull financial literacy for high schools

The number one reason students drop out of school is because they feel as though they’re not learning anything useful. 

It’s no surprise that America’s most at-risk students don’t see the value in learning the difference between isomers and compounds or the name of Hrothgar’s Wife in Beowulf. Spending time learning this type of worldly knowledge is a luxury only the wealthy can afford. 

Huh? But how can you say that when education is free? For the most at-risk teens, education comes at the expense of time. Sitting a class learning lessons they know they’ll never use in life can quickly feel like a waste of time when they could otherwise be working to earn money, or taking care of a family member with failing health. 

There are plenty of reports that tell us all sorts of logical reasons teens dropout of high school. Truancy, bad grades, issues with teachers, etc… They’re all true, and yet they all fail to point out the real issue and the real, underlying reason for nearly all high school dropouts: they felt they were not learning enough useful information that they would be able to use in their lives. 

Of course, admitting this would be to admit that there’s an issue with the system—opposed to an issue with the individual students who decide to drop out. And in an accountability-avoidant society, schools don’t want to paint this type of picture. 

Yet every student that drops out is an illustration of a school’s failure. 

Every year, over 1.2 million students drop out of high school in the United States alone. And about 25% of high school freshmen fail to graduate from high school on time, according to

While perhaps (sadly) not wildly surprising, students from families in lower socioeconomic statuses are five times more likely to drop out of high school ( What may be surprising, is that of these students from lower-income families, 73% of the dropouts said their parents tried to talk them into staying in school. Whereas, only 37% said their school tried to talk them into staying. 

You read that right. It’s the students’ families trying to keep them in school—not the schools themselves. 

Another study found that 53% of dropouts said their parents offered to help them with personal problems that are leading them to drop out. Meanwhile, only 24% said their school offered to help ( When schools have counselors—whose job it is to help students—aren’t helping, it’s evident that there’s a problem. 

Poverty is a problem that transcends generations. Statistically, those born into poor families will grow up to have their own, well, poor family. On the other hand, those born into wealthy families, will most likely grow up and become wealthy.

Over 40 million Americans live below the poverty line, and 43% of children below the age of 18 live in low-income families, according to the National Center for Children in Poverty. If that doesn’t paint a grim enough picture, add the fact that only 4% of children from low-income families will rise into the upper-middle class as adults, according to Policy Expert and Author C. Nicole Mason from BigThink

You read that right: only 4% of America’s poor will rise to the middle class. 

As the gap between rich and poor widens, one of the biggest opportunities a child has in life to break the cycle of poverty they were born into is through their school. Yet, kids from low-income families are 5 times more likely to drop out, which makes them even more likely to live—or remain—in poverty. 

One major opportunity to break the cycle of poverty is to teach financial literacy or personal finance. However, most U.S. schools still fail to teach financial literacy for a number of reasons. One (of the many) commonly reported reasons is that there’s simply not enough time in the day. 

Teachers have a lot on their plate. The list of the required curriculum continues to grow, and the laundry list is far longer than the number of hours in a day. One solution to this problem is to adopt financial literacy programs that can be given as homework. 

Great concept, but the practice is still failing teens. This is in part because educators are turning to online materials to teach personal finance. Schools recognize that not all students have access to a computer at home, and U.S. schools have now spent millions on laptop programs, which provide students with their own electronic devices, such as laptops and tablets. But they continue to make one glaring mistake: Not all students have access to the internet at home.  

In fact, a report from the Federal Communications Commission found that 6% of the U.S. population lacks internet access. While this sounds like a small percentage, it accounts for approximately 19 million Americans. In rural America, almost 25% of the population lacks internet access, to the tune of about 14.5 million people. 

Without internet access, those shiny new devices are rendered useless and equate to more missed lessons, frustration, and poor grades. As we already know, the more coursework a student has missed, the more likely they are to drop out. 

According to an article in The Washington Post, Baltimore’s $147 million laptop program for students proves to provide very little value. With little apparent improvement in learning outcomes, teachers and parents are beginning to question the effectiveness of device-based education. 

Suzanne Persaud, a Baltimore-based parent of three put it well when she said that “These devices do not seem to be improving my kids’ school experience,” and that the school system is “giving them the hardware, but not the courses to advance beyond the devices.” 

Computers and tablets are meant to be facilitating education, but for the most at-risk students, it’s actually hindering education, making it less accessible and more difficult for those who need it most—and further widening the gap between socioeconomic classes. To make the problem worse, schools are investing millions to provide these devices, but very little into the effective educational programs that will actually impact our nation’s youth. 

So what’s the answer to this problem? 

Well, it’s surely not revolutionary. It’s simply books or printed educational materials. 

Sound antiquated, sure, but printed materials don’t run out of batteries, they don’t get stolen, and they don’t require internet access. 

On top of that, they’re not distracting. Unlike computers and tablets, with books students are better able to focus on what they’re doing. Because they’re not holding a computer with the world at their fingertips, there’s less desire to go check Facebook or the latest video from their favorite Youtuber. 

Of course, textbooks are expensive and worse than that—traditional financial literacy textbooks are sleep-inducing and riddled with mind-numbing definitions and equations that feel irrelevant to teens. After all, the difference between a 401K and a ROTH IRA honestly means nothing to a 16-year-old. And let’s be frank, it shouldn’t either. What teens need to learn is how to save money so their summer job can equate a car, what a bad APR is, or how the tuition rate of their dream college can actually cost them the same as their local public institution. 

So what’s the solution for financial literacy education that is relevant, accessible, and affordable? The Prosperity Blueprint by ProsperBull, a real-world personal finance workbook for teens. It’s available in print copies as well as a digital copy that enables teachers to download as many copies as they need within the school year for the cost of one textbook.