Guest Post: The Need for Equitable Student Access to Financial Education — by Daniel Buie

October 05, 2020

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Preparing For The Unexpected

Planning for the unexpected is an all too familiar theme in 2020. This next school year will be different than anything anyone has ever experienced and I am planning for the unexpected right now. I know that I may not be able to predict what the future looks like and I may not have all the answers, but I do have the tools to navigate because I was fortunate enough that my high school, Rauner College Prep, required us to take a semester-long financial education course during our senior year.

Until that course, I had no idea how interest rates would balloon the amount I would owe for any college loans I took out, and how I might be paying it off for decades if I wasn’t careful.

That’s important to me because I don’t have a huge safety net. I grew up in Chicago’s West Humboldt Park, where I live with my mom — and our family struggled. My mom, a massage therapist, sometimes juggled bills, paying for electricity one month, gas the next.

How I plan for and make decisions is likely different than my peers because everyone's financial situation is unique. Some students might choose to assume significant debt because they must attend a specific school for a particular program. But if they do decide to take a more expensive route than I did, at least they should be educated about what they’re getting into, debt-wise. It should be their choice. And they should have the opportunity to plan for it.

In fact, what I valued most from the finEDge course is that no one told me what to do or how to think. Instead, I learned how to apply the information to my own situation. And it helped me to avoid the kind of crippling debt that many students my age carry.

Applying What I Learned

So, with my eyes wide open, I made the decision to study in town and live at home, which lessens the financial strain. I didn’t want my family shouldering the burden of paying for my education or having to take financial risks. I also didn’t want to spend my adulthood trying to dig my way out of debt.

I got three grants to pay for school at UIC. I have minimal student loan debt (less than $2,000) and zero credit card debt because I now understand that decisions I make early on could have ripple effects throughout my lifetime.

Navigating college isn’t always easy, and it’s especially challenging during a pandemic. I’ve continued to use what I learned in finEDge, the financial education course, when I plan for each semester and decide on the number of credit hours to take.

I’m now working as a customer service associate and it feels so good to make money. Managing the everyday means planning for more unexpected expenses like using a shared ride service if public transportation is running behind or isn’t working. It also means contributing at home. I’ve taken over one of the bills at home and I’m responsible for paying on time. Feels good to save and become more self-disciplined with my finances. I look at finance differently –changed mindset – more of a responsibility than a chore.

Getting The Financial Education We Need

I consider myself fortunate because the teachers at my high school expected their students to be totally unprepared for the financial decisions and burdens ahead of us. By mandating that we took a financial education course in high school they knew it would put us on a path to making positive financial decisions. Every student in America deserves that, too. And for most of us, a course like this is the only way we’re going to get the information we need.

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