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UWRF makes personal finance course mandatory for students

National statistics regarding student debt have sparked an interest for UW-River Falls to find ways to educate students about credit cards and managing finances.

A study done in 2006 by Experian, a credit-reporting agency, revealed college students have an average of $5,781 in revolving debt, including credit cards, and an average of $14,379 in student loan balances.

The University does not require students to take a course in personal finance, however, Charles Corcoran, professor of the Personal Finance course (Finance 210), made a proposal to make it part of the general education curriculum. He received notice April 10 that the General Education Committee approved it.

Previously, the course was open to everyone and could be used to meet the credit requirements in the business administration major or minor.

The course will now also be included in the general education curriculum starting next fall. Though it is not a required class for students to take, it is another option to meet the ethical citizenship requirement under goal five.

Brad Caskey, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said he supports the course, and the idea of having it become a requirement has been discussed occasionally.

“There are so many unknowns for graduating seniors,” Caskey said. “It would be great for students transforming out of college to know these practical things.”

Topics the course covers are consumer finance issues, such as developing a personal balance sheet, how to do a simple tax return, saving money versus investing money, consumer credit risks and insurance.

“I think [the course] is a very meaningful class for students,” Corcoran said. “It’s one class where I usually don’t have trouble getting students to participate, even at 9:05 in the morning. I can’t say the same for my other classes.”

To have the course fit into the general education curriculum, Corcoran said he has developed the course to not only focus on teaching students about consumer finance issues, but also how to make decisions and the ramifications for those decisions, such as buying big cars that are not environmentally friendly.

“It will be much more reflective on how to make life-long consumer decisions,” he said.

Corcoran said the course may be very beneficial to many students as part of the general education curriculum considering the increase in student debt.

Junior Phillip Bauer is currently enrolled in the Personal Finance course and said it has helped him manage his money.

“We really haven’t talked about saving and investing yet, but as far as leasing or buying a car, it has helped me a lot,” he said. “We also learned how to properly insure a car.”

Bauer said the most important thing he hopes to learn in the course will be about investing.

“I already have mutual funds started, but I think it is important for everyone to start investing when they are young,” he said.

Bauer said this course would help students with their own finances and he advises other students to take it.

“This class also talks about how to use your credit card and how to build credit without having a credit card,” he said. “It deals with real issues that they face right now and will face in the future like buying a car and a home.”

Jake Hovden graduated from UW-River Falls in 2004 with a degree in health and human performance. His degree requirements didn’t call for any business or financial courses, but he said he knew he would soon need good financial skills as his graduation neared and entrance into the real world became inevitable.

Coming into the class, he said he was very uneducated in the area of personal finance, like other college students.

“I had no idea what to look for when buying insurance or a home,” Hovden said. “And my money management skills were pretty poor, too. At some point, you have to start thinking outside the box of school and look ahead, especially for juniors and seniors whose turn will come sooner than they think.”

Hovden currently owns a home in Farmington, Minn., with his wife, Lisa.

In addition to using the course as a tool to educate students on credit card debt and managing finances, Career Services and the First Year
Experience (FYE) program have offered programs focusing on these issues.

In March, Career Services featured a program called “Ultimate Money Skills” during the one-day event called “Career Roadmap: Navigating the World of Work.”

Miriam Huffman, FYE co-director, said the University brings in a program called “Ultimate Roadtrip” each fall during Weeks of Welcome.

“This session addresses a variety of transition issues, including ideas for budgeting and managing money,” Huffman said.

In January, FYE offered sessions called “Money Matters,” which the program plans to offer again in June.

“[It] introduced specifically the financial aid and tuition payment processes to family members of incoming students,” Huffman said.

FYE is continuing to seek out ways to educate students about finances.

The program is currently developing money management sessions for students to attend during registration for new students and Weeks of Welcome.

Sarah Egerstrom, FYE co-director, said it may be required for students during new student registration, but would be strongly encouraged during Weeks of Welcome.

“We have seen that our students have struggled to pay for school,” Egerstrom said. “We have seen national data on the issue of credit card debt and managing finances.”

The program is also considering partnering up with First National Bank.

“We’re looking to partner with First National Bank here on campus during the Weeks of Welcome program and for the upcoming 2007-08 year to help students learn about credit, how to maintain good credit, what credit is and how it can affect them in the future,” Huffman said.

With FYE still developing the money management sessions and discussing possible partnerships, and the inclusion of the Personal Finance course in the general education curriculum, national statistics continue to demonstrate the need to educate students on money matters. Huffman said during college, students are often responsible for funding a variety of expenses including laundry, groceries, gas, a quick snack or social activities, such as concerts.

“It is important to educate college students about finances early and often,” Huffman said. “We need to be certain that students are making smart choices and not making uninformed decisions about money matters.”