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October 24, 2012 11:00 AM Responsible Spending

By Daniel Luzer

Some universities are apparently now working to discourage students from taking out loans and encouraging responsible spending practices. According to a piece by Jon Marcus at CNN Money:

Syracuse University, for instance, identifies students who are over-borrowing from private lenders and helps them stop by giving them direct grants for future semesters averaging $5,000 to $7,000 per year.
Called the Money Awareness Program, the initiative has reduced the average debt of about 100 students each in their sophomore, junior and senior year by $12,000 each. In exchange, recipients are required to attend money-management courses once a semester until they graduate.

Other colleges have different strategies. One private college in Pennsylvania, Alvernia University, apparently forces all students to take an hour-long financial management seminar. A program at some community colleges disperses scholarship money in checks every week, as if the students had jobs, in order to “to teach recipients to budget and manage their money better.”

The idea of all such programs is to reduce the shock of graduating with unmanageable loans. Once students leave school they’ll be able to manage their finances effectively, so the thinking goes.

It’s probably good that universities are starting to think about the financial burden graduates face once they leave, but there’s only so much hour-long financial management courses can achieve. The solution to fixing the student loan burden isn’t “improving student-loan literacy”; it’s reducing the amount of debt student face upon graduating from college. Any serious effort would concentrate on that total loan amount.

Students, in large part, don’t face unmanageable student loan burdens because of profligate learning, after all. It’s not like credit card debt; they’re only taking out loans to cover the cost of colleges they attend. That’s the real problem here.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer