It’s no surprise that many Americans are displeased to see the return of student loan payments on October 1. And, on top of student loan payments returning, college costs do not seem to be easing any time soon. For better or worse, this means that high school students need to be financially literate and understand the costs of higher education. Many legislators are focusing on programs to reduce or eliminate the amount of student loans necessary to pursue a certification, two-year degree, or four-year degree. Two U.S. Senators, Mitt Romney of Utah and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have released a bill to expand Arizona’s Earn to Learn program.
The Earn to Learn Act would assist incoming low-income college students by both matching their savings in a 529 account and providing financial literacy education. This financial literacy education would include specific learning related to student loans, financial aid, credit, budgeting, and interest rates. This matching grant, coupled with high-quality financial literacy education, will ideally help motivate students to take an active role in their own college funding and minimize financial mistakes, such as overspending on non-necessities, that might drain their funds.
Federal Grants Can Promote States’ Innovative Ideas
States control almost all K-12 public school curricula, and the federal government cannot mandate that a state require a specific college course. However, the federal government can provide grant funding to states to provide desired programs. The Learn to Earn Act would provide such grant money at the federal level, benefiting students even if their respective states do not require a PFL class in high school. The federal government can use its grant powers to elevate innovative education ideas at the state level, such as Arizona’s Learn to Earn program, and use them to provide opportunities to all teens and young adults.
Arizona’s program boasts impressive metrics, including a first-year retention rate of almost 90 percent and a college graduation rate almost double that of non-participants. At the state level, participants may receive up to $4,000 per year in Earn to Learn funding at in-state public colleges and universities, which is on top of any federal grants, such as the Pell grant, received. While this may not pay for all of one’s college costs, it will likely cover most costs at a community college or non-flagship university.
Rising Costs of College Should Promote Financial Literacy
Programs like Earn to Learn are a valuable tool given today’s excessive higher education costs. It is no longer realistic for most high school students to assume that they should take out massive student loans at one time to fund a four-year degree. With college costs high and post-graduation real wages declining, it may be more valuable for most students to approach their higher education carefully. Although it is likely not most students’ first choice, pay-as-you-go programs to fund community college tuition for two years before transferring to a four-year university should receive a closer look.
Students need to be well aware of the student loan payments they will have to make if they take out large loans to fund all 4-6 years at a state flagship university when they are eighteen. Unfortunately, until all states require a Personal Financial Literacy (PFL) class for high school graduation, many teens will continue to sign up for hefty student loans without fully realizing the costs. It may not be as much fun at first glance, but making realistic college decisions and graduating without debt can mean decades of better quality of life!