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Personal economics for students just makes sense

Colleges and universities today offer all kinds of different specialized curricula for students who just graduated from high school to pursue, featuring all kinds of different courses designed to lead freshmen in the "right" direction.

What a pity there was one idea for a course that was overlooked -- one in common-sense personal economics -- both at the college level and, certainly, at the high school level. Think of how many students there are in our institutes of higher learning today, away from home for the very first time -- some of them without a clue as to how to spend or save money.

We were reminded of this dilemma after having seen a story in USA Today last week that pointed out that debt is smothering young Americans ... that for many living in a world of easy credit, the process of digging out of debt can become a way of life.

If this doesn't sound familiar to some by now, the article mentioned that 18- to 35-year-olds often must live from paycheck to paycheck, using credit for restaurant meals, high-tech "toys" and new cars that they otherwise could not afford. And this isn't according to us, but rather to debt counselors, consumer advocates and market researchers.

It went on to say that the average undergraduate student today owes $2,748 on his credit cards.

Of course, we realize that not every college student -- freshman or otherwise -- carries a pocketful of cash. That would be an unrealistic assumption.

The USA Today article included a bar graph from Nellie Mae stating that in 1998, 67 percent of undergraduate college students had a credit card, a figure that has jumped to 78 percent today. What about those who have four or more credit cards? Three years ago, there were 27 percent of the undergraduates in this category. That has risen to 32 percent today.

We quoted the story as saying that the average credit card debt for a student today is $2,748. Three short years ago, the average credit card debt for students was $1,879 -- $869 less. By our calculations, that appears to be an increase of 46.3 percent.

Prep school and college systems would be wise to revisit their curricula. Because how many other classes would serve a more practical purpose than one in personal economics?

Robert F. Stealey

Telegram Editorial Board chairman

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