Evaluation Perspectives


Financial education encompasses a broad landscape as shown by the sections in this paper. Programs for financial education primarily differ based on the characteristics of the groups served and the content to be taught or the information to be shared. Financial education for children and youth may focus on basic financial concepts and their application to a range of financial issues that these students might face later in life. By contrast, financial education for working or older adults may be devoted to a single financial issue or topic, such as saving for retirement, for which there is a current need for instruction or advice. Each financial education initiative will be unique in some way because it will have a particular purpose and target a designated group or groups of individuals.

From an evaluation perspective, what this situation means is that there will be no one standard method for assessing financial education programs. Evaluations in financial education will differ substantially based on the characteristics of the financial education program they are designed to assess. These characteristics include the target group for financial education, the length of the program, the in-person and technological delivery of content, the background and preparation of instructors, counselors, or coaches, the location and arrangement for the program, and many others. In addition, such factors as resource constraints, data collection issues, quality of the outcome measures, sample selection concern, and suitability of the statistical analysis can all affect what is possible to do when conducting an evaluation study and reporting findings. Simply stated, evaluation in financial education is a daunting task for researchers and others who accept the challenge.

Regardless of these differences and concerns, the results from each evaluation of a financial education program provides additional information about effectiveness of financial education. The findings accumulate over time and begin to reveal insights about what works in financial education and how it works to improve financial outcomes and well-being for people. The collective evidence presented in this paper shows that financial education can be effective in many ways across the broad landscape of groups and issues it covers. These encouraging findings, of course, vary in extent based on program conditions and other influences, but the overall assessment is a generally positive one. As more evaluation studies are conducted, more evidence will accumulate to enrich our understanding of what works in financial education and how it can be made more effective for the groups served and financial topics covered.