As high school students we can’t help but be a little enamored of college. We’re encouraged to be. Despite how commonplace and even expected it is now for high school students to move on to college, (college, in a lot of ways, has become just an extension of high school) there’s still an element of prestige associated with university attendance; and the more well respected the school, the higher it rates on the prestige scale. Community colleges certainly don’t rate very high on prestige; they don’t glimmer before you like Gatsby’s dreams, calling you toward an illusion never to be grasped. Perhaps it’s precisely this down to earth quality that’s allowed California’s Community Colleges to develop innovative methods of incorporating personal finance education and advising into the student loan process.
In August of this year, The Institute for College Access & Success (TICAS) teamed up with The California Community Colleges Student Financial Aid Administrators Association (CCCSFAAA) to create a report called Making Loans Work: How Community Colleges Support Responsible Borrowing. The report includes detailed information on methods used in California’s network of 112 community colleges to help students be more aware of how their student loans will affect their future. The simplicity and practicality of the methods used serve to make them easily transferable to four-year colleges and graduate schools. Also, these practices are accommodatingly diverse, and there are enough to choose from that all schools should be able to find a method they can incorporate into their own current framework.
For example, some colleges offer, “in-person counseling to every borrower, every year the student borrows. The meetings cover budgets, borrowing history, and academic progress and plans.” Schools with more limited staff use worksheets for students’ planning and budgeting processes. Another method used is to “assign academic counselors to the financial aid office, to help make important connections between academic concerns and financial concerns.” These are just a few of many creative ways CCCs have come up with.
More than a few of us didn’t enter higher education with anything more than a vague notion of what we hoped to get out of it and the assumption since age five that, of course, we were college bound. In hindsight, a lot us are wishing we had thought longer and harder about what kind of a life we hoped to make for ourselves and how exactly higher education might fit into that picture. So often in our highly advertised culture, we buy into an idea of education that schools are selling, and we try with the desperately generous naiveté inherent to the very young, to fit ourselves into somebody else’s picture.
Personal finance quickly becomes a vital part of our existence. We need a little reality to penetrate the cocoon of academia, helping students to think about what it is they want their education to help them achieve. For a lot of people, that great achievement has boiled down to just getting out of debt. Hopefully, the practices in Making Loans Work will spread like wildfire across the nation’s colleges. In the meantime, the ill-advised multitudes who are struggling to free themselves from the fetters of student debt need to know about organizations providing knowledge and information about debt management. It’s an area in which, so far, higher education has largely failed us.