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Regents charge universities to mandate financial literacy course

Board of Regents members said they hear from students regularly on the issue of loan debt

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Board of Regents President Bruce Rastetter on Thursday called on all three of Iowa’s public universities to develop some sort of mandatory financial literacy course in hopes of addressing the issue of mounting student debt.

“I would encourage provosts to bring forward that class and that requirement so we can actually focus and do more on that priority,” Rastetter said during the board’s monthly meeting, which was held on the University of Iowa campus.

Members of the Board of Regents said they hear from students regularly on the issue of loan debt, which is soaring locally and nationally, with seven of 10 seniors who graduated from public and nonprofit colleges in 2013 reporting some level of debt, according to the Institute for College Access and Success.

The national average student debt load in 2013, according to that institute, was $28,400.

In Iowa, according to Board of Regents reports, 40.7 percent of all UI seniors graduated without debt in the 2013-2014 academic year; 35.8 percent of all Iowa State University seniors graduated without debt that year; and 25.1 percent of all University of Northern Iowa seniors graduated without debt.

UNI’s student debt levels have dropped 13 percent since 2010, and UNI officials on Thursday boasted efforts to drive down that number, including a course called “Live Like a Student.”

Iowa’s other universities also have existing financial literacy resources for students. UI, for example, requires all students requesting a private loan to meet with a financial literacy specialist. Students who are borrowing additional unsubsidized loans are advised to meet with the specialists.

UI offers an online course, Managing Your Money, which introduces basic concepts and practices of money management and prevention of financial problems. A UI-offered “CashCourse” provides information on how to build money management skills, survive a tough economy, manage debt, handle peer pressure, and live on campus or off campus.

Iowa State’s College of Human Sciences offers courses in personal and family finance, and its working with the Iowa Department of Education to develop a new certificate program that prepares high school teachers to lead courses in personal finance.

But Rastetter stressed that voluntary programs don’t necessarily help those who need the resources most.

University of Iowa Provost P. Barry Butler told The Gazette that administrators from all three universities have formed a committee to review financial literacy programming and best practices, but he said it’s too soon to tell what recommendations that committee might produce.

The regent call for increased student education around financial literacy comes as tuition rates continue to rise both locally and nationally. Tuition revenue accounts for 61.2 percent the regent university’s general education funding, compared with 20.8 percent in 1980 and 46 percent in 2009. Meanwhile, state appropriations account for 34.3 percent of the general university funding, compared with 77.4 percent in 1980 and 48.3 percent in 2009, according to regent documents.

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