Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
College should be a place where people of all socioeconomic statuses can expand their knowledge with the goal of earning valuable degrees that set students up for success. While it was once an educational experience that only the elites could have, it now serves as an equalizer for lower-income families. College allows people without connections to learn about their subject of interest and get jobs in their field of choice.
But, with the ever-rising costs of attending college, us students are often left with large amounts of debt and limited skills to manage it. Once we get jobs, we are often left having to learn how to manage our money on our own. A basic education in personal finance is one of the most valuable things that can improve every student’s life post-graduation.
By not requiring students to take a course in financial literacy, the University of Maryland prevents its students from maximizing the utility of their degrees. To rectify this, this university needs to make taking a financial literacy course a requirement to ensure all students have the skills to manage their finances post-graduation.
The unfortunate truth is most Americans have almost no foundational understanding of finance. In a nationwide survey of three basic questions on compound interest, inflation and investment diversification, only 34 percent of participants got all three questions correct. There is a strong correlation between financial illiteracy and making risky financial decisions, such as taking predatory, high-interest loans, accumulating credit card debt and forgoing an emergency fund.
Worse yet, the financially illiterate are behind the eight ball when it comes to achieving important financial milestones such as buying an affordable house, saving for retirement and building a college fund for their children. With the greatest disparities in financial knowledge among women and people of color, by not offering an education in financial literacy, this university is complicit in perpetuating the rampant intersectional wealth gaps.
There is clear, convincing evidence that providing courses in personal finance is one of the best ways to close the financial literacy gap. A Penn State survey found that students who took a college-level finance course demonstrated greater knowledge about personal investments and on average, tended to have higher savings rates than similar students who were not offered those courses.
This university already obligates students to take a wide range of general education courses in math, science, history and communications intended to help students “develop the skills necessary to succeed … in [students’] professional lives.” Yet, they do not have a single course in financial literacy. Why doesn’t this university think managing money is a necessary skill that professionals in all fields — let alone adults who need to make daily spending and saving decisions — need?
Once students leave the sheltered world of college, they flounder in the real world with crippling student debt. The average college graduate in the U.S. is shackled with $30,000 of debt when they graduate. With no promises that college will become subsidized by the government, students have to deal with their debts as efficiently as possible, so they can begin saving and investing their money for the future.
A prime factor for many college students, including myself, in choosing to go to college is the promise of getting a well-paying, secure job that will allow us to be self-sufficient members of society. While this university offers plenty of resources to help its students get jobs, such as resume workshops, interview prep and networking events, they do not provide guidance for students on managing their finances once they actually do get these jobs. I am lucky that I have had the opportunity to learn some principles of personal finance, but I fear most students are less fortunate.
It is irresponsible to teach us students the skills to get a job without informing us of the financial responsibilities that come with it. How can this university keep sending students out into the professional world if it can’t teach us how to handle our money?
This university must give its students the financial literacy we need to make the most of our degrees. Imposing a general education requirement in financial literacy that outlines the basics of budgeting, managing debt, interest, investing and credit would greatly improve the ability of this university’s students to make the most out of their education and ensure their long-term welfare.
Ravi Panguluri is a freshman computer science and statistics major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.