COUNTERPOINT: USC should require a class teaching personal finance

As I near the end of my final year at USC, I think it is appropriate to reflect on my time here and consider what might be done to improve the University. Of course, the first thing that comes to mind is the general education curriculum, which undergraduate students must engage in. At USC, general education courses are commonly seen by students as incredibly valuable, an unbelievable waste of time or anywhere in between. This often occurs because students feel like the general education courses they are more or less forced to take often do not correlate with their interests or with their future careers. While I enjoyed nearly every general education class I had the opportunity to take, it is still clear that the University may be able to improve the perception of the general education program by including a topic of universal importance that has so far been lacking coverage: money.

There are certainly many students who have learned how to manage their wealth responsibly, either before or during their time on campus. Particularly prudent students may craft budgets and stick to self-imposed limits on spending money. Others, however, clearly do not. In recognition of the fact that many students may not learn to appropriately handle money early in their collegiate careers, a class teaching fiscal responsibility would be appropriate to include in the general education curriculum.

General education courses serve a very important role in rounding out undergraduate education, making students literate in more fields of study than solely their chosen majors. Classes in history, language, mathematics science and philosophy all advance the excellent liberal arts education that makes universities like USC so prestigious and competitive. This educational curriculum is central to the University’s goal of creating well-prepared and studious thinkers, artists and entrepreneurs. However, fiscal responsibility universally applies to nearly all aspects of student life, yet gets comparatively little official attention. If students are to become responsible members of society upon graduation, this must change.

This proposed money management class could feasibly be made into a one or two-unit course with minimal busywork but still teaches the essentials of fiscal responsibility to younger students. This would concurrently accomplish two major goals: maximizing the utility of the course while also minimizing the burden on students whose majors force them to take substantial class loads in their first few semesters. Furthermore, the class could be made subject to a placement exam, similar to how foreign language courses are currently handled in the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. Under this model, if a student demonstrates that they already have the necessary financial management skills, they would not need to take the course.

In this way, the course would not be a waste of time and money, but instead would be an investment in the futures of future Trojans and the University itself. Current career and financial resources offered at USC, like those at the Career Center and the Financial Aid Office, are certainly helpful and welcome. But the fact is that many Trojans, even those that have family wealth to fall back on, can be irresponsible when it comes to personal finance. The quicker those students can learn how to use their money properly, the better for all Trojans, especially themselves.

One may make the argument that these are skills that students should teach themselves or should pick up over time, and there is merit to that point of view. In an ideal world, teaching young adults enrolled in college how to handle their financial assets would not be necessary. Money management skills and financial responsibility are topics that really should be taught in more elementary tiers of education than at a university. Yet, here we are.

When students impose financial goals and schedules upon themselves that are detrimental to their health and academic performance, one is left to wonder if plain ignorance is the root cause. It may or may not be. At the very least, USC can do its part to invest in the futures of Trojans by showing them the right way to handle money, even if they ultimately choose not to follow sage advice. At least then we will know that it was the student’s informed choice to do so.

USC has the unique opportunity to position itself as the premier guide to student financial responsibility, even if students have an excess of wealth (and especially if they do not). For this reason, the University should consider adding a course on money management to the general education curriculum.

Trevor Kehrer is a senior majoring in political science. “Point/Counterpoint” ran Wednesdays.