Illustration by Amanda Alten.

According to NPR, the average debt for students graduating from a public institution has risen from $10,700 in the 1999–2000 year to $12,300 in the 2009–2010 year. In September 2011, the U.S. Department of Education reported that the federal loan default rate had risen in public institutions from 6 percent in 2008 to 7.2 percent in 2009.

As student loans become more and more necessary to afford rising tuition costs, it would be beneficial for college students to better understand how to handle their personal finances and avoid disasters like defaulting on their loans.

According to a poll conducted five years ago by Savings Without a Budget, a website that gives financial advice to help readers increase their savings, 89 percent of those surveyed said they believe personal finance should be a required part of every child’s education.

Although finances can be taught in the home, financial knowledge would be more effectively and equally dispensed if taught in our public school institutions, at either the high school or college level. This would ensure that students were equipped with the necessary tools to tackle student loans and other important financial responsibilities.

According to the article “90% of People Believe Personal Finance Should Be Taught in School,” written by Brian Carr in 2007, there are problems with teaching personal finance at home. It tends to keep poor students in a state of poverty and gives rich students a leg up on handling their personal finances successfully.

If there is to be any hope for equal footing, personal finance should be taught in schools. Some high schools already offer life skills classes in which personal finance is taught, but it is not yet a general requirement for all students, and it should be.

Finance education should be taught in high school as a broad public school curriculum requirement. Select programs exist that teach high school students how to balance their checkbooks along with other relevant finance knowledge, but not every public school has the same resources.

If personal finance is to be taught in high schools, it needs to be more accessible and equally applied as part of high school requirements. Since this curriculum doesn’t already exist, it is up to colleges to take note and compensate.

UC Santa Cruz’s economics department offers courses like public and international finance, but these cover world markets rather than applicable financial knowledge for a student’s personal life. UCSC teaches personal finance at its extension campus in Silicon Valley although there is still not a personal finance class offered at the main campus.

UCSC students taking out student loans complete “Pre-Loan Counseling for Student Loan Borrowers” a service offered by Student Business Services to help students understand loans. This online tutorial is insufficient because it only scratches the surface of loan counseling and can easily be completed by parents or family members, cheating the student of any education at all. Counseling of this type would be most effective if offered in person.

Better yet, loan counseling, taught alongside other personal finance topics including credit card management and understanding mortgages, could be a general education class at UCSC.

All of this does not mean students should not also be responsible with their personal financial decisions, but it does mean that we need a solid base platform of knowledge from which all can jump.

Knowledge is power, and students have a right to power over their personal finances, even if we sometimes feel powerless over rising tuition costs.