Coffee heat rising

Should college students have to study personal finance?

One of the groups in my Writing for the Professions classes is proposing, as their semester project, that the university offer a course in personal finance and require it for all incoming freshmen.

No, they don’t know about this blog.

It’s an interesting idea, made more interesting by the fact that so far the students haven’t shown they know how deep the problem really is. They’ve given no indication, for example, that they know the average student loan indebtedness of a typical young college graduate, or that they know how much credit card debt the average undergraduate student racks up. Apparently they just feel a general angst about the whole issue.

Frankly, I think a required two-semester course in personal finance would benefit students a lot more than the commonly required freshman composition.

I say that as one who would be put out of work by the absence of required writing courses.

A person who has not learned how to express himself adequately in his native language after 13 years of schooling is not going to learn it in two reluctant semesters. Such a person is not interested in writing, can not and does not read or write, and is not even faintly interested in doing so. Freshman comp, by and large, is a waste of time. It’s a waste of time for the students who can’t write, and it’s a waste of time for those who can. Neither category of student profits by sitting in a class that reiterates material that should have been learned years before. Freshman composition as a required course should be abolished.

But a personal finance course would benefit almost every student who took it. And it would benefit the society at large: widespread formal training in personal finance skills would reduce indebtedness and improve savings rates. If, over the past two decades, college students in general had been taught the basic facts about mortgage lending, for example, we might not have the real estate crisis to deal with, or at least not to the extent we see-more people would have been savvy enough to avoid wacky mortgage instruments.

I can envision a two-semester course: in the first semester, the principles of budgeting, credit, mortgage lending, and how banks work; in the second, a wide-ranging view of saving, investing, and real estate.

It would be a lot more useful than freshman comp. Bet most of the students would keep their textbooks, rather than selling them back to the bookstore for a few pennies.

That alone would tell you something.

Comments from iWeb site:


I WISH college taught applied personal finance skills. It’s unbelievable to me how we can go though life studying calculus and physics and yet never study how to buy a house or how to invest for retirement. Perhaps start earlier in school? Studying personal finance in high school is an even better idea!

Thursday, April 17, 200809:24 AM


Back in the Dark Ages, the California school system required that girls take three semesters of home economics and boys take three semesters of shop to graduate from high school. You had to take a year of the stuff in junior high and then a semester in high school.

It was obnoxious because it assumed that girls were bred up to be good little wives and boys would make themselves useful by changing oil in the car and doing light carpentry around the house. The home ec courses mostly were about sewing and cooking foodoids that came out of boxes. But the high-school semester had units on smart consumer buying, how to find out about products, how to compare prices and quality, and household budgeting.

Nevertheless, I knew absolutely nothing about mortgage lending when, thirty years later, I bought my first house as a single woman. When I was a kid, it was assumed the man would deal with deal with those matters, so there was no reason to trouble a girl’s pretty little head.

Really, there’s no good reason a grown woman–or a grown man–should go into a complicated transaction that will leave her or him indebted for thirty years without some knowledge of what it all means. A high school kid is capable of understanding this stuff. Yeah: it ought to be introduced to them.