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EDITORIAL: Personal finance classes should be mandatory for graduation

For many young adults, student loans can be the most nerve-wracking part of attending college. For them, this time in their lives marks the first time they’ve ever operated independently, and many don’t possess the skills necessary to succeed financially.

As of October 2015, only five states require high school students take personal finance classes: Alabama, Missouri, Tennessee, Utah and Virginia. While Belmont stands in a state requires students take personal finance in high school, about 68 percent of Belmont’s 2015 incoming freshman did not come from states requiring this of their students.

College graduates from the class of 2014 owe an average of about $29,000 in student loan debt, according to a report released by the Institute for College Access and Success in October 2015. This is a staggering number, especially considering the average test result on the National Financial Capability Test was 62 percent.

With scores on these tests as low as they stand currently, one would think colleges and universities would start looking at personal finance classes for their students, but most are not – including Belmont University.

In a day when a vast majority of students receive student loans, our colleges should be looking to provide students with access to programs promoting financial literacy, a skill many students currently lack.

Belmont does not regularly offer personal finance classes, though some professors teach Junior Cornerstones that cover this topic. These classes are not consistently offered, so many students end up missing out.

These junior cornerstones often focus on making math relatable to the real world, but the university has not strongly considered adding personal finance to student’s general education requirements.

Belmont’s current math program does not focus on practical application as much as mathematical concepts and student’s comfort level with these concepts, said Alison Moore Parker, director of general education.

Belmont requires so many general education courses already and one major worry Parker has with requiring personal finance is a lack of student engagement.

“Like every other concept that we have in liberal education, forcing personal finance on students isn’t actually going to help. We can force everyone to take a financial literacy class, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to actually gain the knowledge they need,” said Parker.

Parker feels personal finance is a skill better taught in the home or through experience rather than in a classroom, as she learned when she received her first checking account.

But if parents don’t teach students these skills before they come to college, students may not receive these skills at all.

Without this knowledge, students will continue to accumulate debt on loans they don’t fully understand, a problem which, according to the National Life Skills Education Council, causes 96 percent of college students to regret their financial decisions after receiving more financial education.

This article was written by Melissa Kriz.

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