New financial literacy bill seeks to add student loan, higher education financing to school curriculum
Local district already addresses many of the topics the bill would require
There are over 44 million Americans with some amount of student loan debt. In Colorado, there are over 800,000 residents that owe an average of $34,497. This debt weighs heavily on young adults as they exit college and enter into their professional careers.
For as prominent an issue as student loan debt is, there is a lack of education and discourse about it for younger students as they consider their college and higher education options. A new Colorado bill seeks to increase education for high school students around paying for college and managing student loan debt.
The bill adds to the existing financial literacy education required by the state as well as to the existing financial literacy resource bank.
If passed, schools would need to ensure that students in grades nine through 12 receive an education on how to budget for paying off the costs associated with obtaining a post-secondary degree. This includes accessing student aid through completing the free application for federal student aid and the Colorado application for state financial aid as well as understanding credit cards and credit card debt, homeownership and mortgages, retirement plans, investments and more.
“Helping students to understand financial literacy is important,” said Katie Jarnot, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction for Eagle County Schools. “Education and financial literacy are the bedrock from which the American Dream is built. It is imperative that students and parents understand that education, including financial literacy, positions students to pursue the life and career of interest to them.”
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Current financial literacy education in Eagle County spans all grades and covers a variety of content areas from math to social studies and everywhere in between. High school students already have a number of offerings that touch upon some of the subjects the bill will mandate.
This includes the option of taking business math, which centers entirely on financial literacy. It also includes economics classes, which students are required to take a half credit in to graduate high school. All ninth graders are required to take a personal economics course, which Jarnot said fits the description of the bill.
These economics classes dig into the study and practice of micro and macroeconomics; use a resource called Everfi to learn and practice topics like banking, credit cards, insurance and financing higher education; and include an economic life project in which students have to budget and create a five-to-10- year plan that includes education, career, housing, transportation, insurance, savings, retirement plans and credit card spending. Everfi is made available to the district at no cost due to a donation from the Lapin Family Foundation.
Students from elementary through high school all use the AVID curriculum, a college and career preparatory program, in some way. AVID teaches students about different colleges, financial aid and financial planning for post-secondary options. According to Jarnot, high school seniors spend a lot of class time on financial literacy.
“By the time a student graduates high school, I believe our financial literacy curriculum has provided them with a good foundation,” Jarnot said. “That knowledge transitions from theoretical to practical once a student moves forward from high school, so the learning doesn’t stop after graduation; it just becomes more self-directed by the individual.”
The ‘great equalizer’
Student loan debt is an issue that disproportionately affects students of color. According to Department of Education and Census data analyzed by Brookings, Black students owe $7,400 more student debt than white graduates. This issue is something that financial literacy seeks to equalize.
“Providing access to higher education and career options is an important part of pursuing equity,” Jarnot said. “Ensuring that our students who are in poverty have access to a solid financial future through financial literacy and higher education, including vocational and technical education, helps fulfill public education’s promise of being the ‘great equalizer.'”
Increasing access and understanding around higher education and financial literacy is paramount to equalizing the opportunity surrounding higher education.
“If we provide students with the knowledge to wisely invest in higher education, then it can alleviate fears or concerns that might otherwise cause them to not even consider the option,” Jarnot said. “Whether it’s college or a technical or vocational school, investing in education beyond high school is an investment in one’s dreams and futures. Investments have to be made wisely and with prudence.”
While the new Colorado bill won’t do much to change how Eagle County teaches its financial literacy, it could change the way it distributes resources around it.
“The part of the bill I think is problematic is legislating how school districts make staffing decisions,” Jarnot said. “We see financial literacy as essential and it is embedded in our coursework from kindergarten onward. If schools are required to have a class for all students, solely focused on financial literacy, this requires dedicating staff funding for this purpose. That funding has to be taken away from somewhere else.”
For Jarnot, the legislation fails to recognize the work Eagle County is already doing. “Staffing-by-legislation almost always fails to fully understand the comprehensive efforts already in place at the local level, efforts tailored by local professional educators and community partners to meet the needs of the specific community,” she said.