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Column: Understanding the importance of financial literacy

One of the most common barriers for students who wish to pursue higher education is the exorbitant cost of college. In America, we have around $1.3 trillion of outstanding student loan debt according to the Federal Reserve. And in Ohio, students are graduating college on average with over $29,000 in student loan debt. Policymakers, economists, advocates and pundits have all proposed different ideas to help curb this enormous burden in our society.

As we go through key education topics, I would like to address the issue of financial literacy as a proactive way to combat this widespread issue.

As with other major expenses in life, education often requires borrowing money in order to pay the bills. Choosing this option is still a viable way to advance an individual’s career. Essentially, a student is borrowing money against their future earning potential, presumably wages from a job that requires a college degree. Like any investment, it is important to understand the risks and consequences associated with borrowing this money. When you combine the high cost of education with the uncertainty many graduates face once they are out of school, many people are rightly rethinking ways to prevent accruing excessive debt.

All of this goes back to career planning done in a student’s high school years. While certainly difficult to determine as a 14 or 15 year old, the earlier students can begin shaping their career expectations the better. When making decisions about future career options, it is important to consider the financial test. How much will it cost you to get the training or education you need for the career path you want? Are there jobs available in that field? If you do get a job with that degree or training, will it help you pay back any money you borrowed to finance your education? If you do choose to incur debt, will you be able to pay for other things like rent, transportation, utility bills, and other costs of living your desired lifestyle?

If you have any trouble confidently answering these questions, you might be assuming too much risk by financing your education. What we cannot keep allowing to happen is to have students spend thousands on a degree, only to graduate and be forced to take a position that undermines their earning potential, as well as the skills they gained from their area of study.

Instead, we can be thinking of different ways to reduce costs in education. Mainly, there are opportunities through career technical programs, community colleges, regional campuses, online education, and other means that can knock some of the steep tuition prices back to a manageable level. Many institutions are offering 2 + 2 agreements where a student can take prerequisite classes at a community college and then transfer their credits and finish their degree at a four year university. And some institutions are even accepting credit from credential programs in the career tech field to count towards a college degree.

It is important that we help students realize these opportunities before they handcuff their future potential with overly burdensome student debt. We always want to encourage our students to better themselves through education. Instead of throwing them blindly into expensive programs, we can find creative ways to pursue education at a reasonable cost.

Bill Reineke, R-Tiffin, is the State Representative for Ohio’s 88th House District.

- Fremont News-Messenger - September 10, 2016 -


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