I am a broke student — enrolled in four classes and working two jobs, scrambling for money to pay off a giant debt that seems to only increase exponentially. I am shrinking by the minute as essays, deadlines, exams and high academic standards stand as obstacles to my financial literacy.
I share this experience with many in the world of post-secondary education. Being financially literate is different than being financially knowledgeable, leading me to ask the question — why do students fall into a deep hole of debt to attain degrees that aren’t guaranteed to get them out of debt in the future?
Financial literacy is defined as being confident in your financial management. Financial knowledge is defined as knowing how to manage your money and applying that knowledge. According to recent studies, students are known to be financially knowledgeable but not fully financially literate. Considering where I am currently, I can attest to that fact.
I was not taught how interest works, what taxes are or what financial terms I should know prior to becoming a university student. I was taught that I should have my income divided into spending and saving portions, and I was confident that this was all I needed to know.
Students often fall into debt because they are exploited by credit card companies and luring loans. While borrowing options can be helpful, students often misunderstand or are even unaware of the terms that hold them to these contracts.
A 2017 survey revealed that U of S alumni with loans had the highest average debt in the province, reaching more than $40,000, which is $12,000 higher than the average post-graduate debt of the province. Saskatchewan also had the third highest average tuition fees in Canada, with Ontario and Nova Scotia on top.
The plethora of credit cards and loans available, combined with students’ pseudo-financial confidence, often results in falling behind on their finances.
And yet, students are constantly exposed to different financial companies that tell them they have the best deal for their demographic in particular — using vague, baiting terms or mentioning relatable financial distress as a way of convincing their prey that this is indeed the best opportunity for students.
Financial stress is connected to lack of financial literacy. Financial stress, on top of academic stress, increases the burden students bear. Students are forced to work while in school to pay off these debts, and time that is supposed to be dedicated to their education is taken away.
Working while in university can affect a student’s academic performance, leading some to delay or abandon the opportunity for higher education.
Financial-management tools have proven helpful in changing the spending behaviours of students. These tools can be in the form of a class or counselling where an individual becomes familiar with the options or methods available to them in order to avoid being stuck in too high of a debt.
Students, unfortunately, are not in the habit of exploring such methods on their own. Considering this, I would argue that the U of S, or even the Saskatchewan education system, needs to introduce a compulsory medium for financial literacy.
By exposing students to an introductory class in financial management in secondary or post-secondary institutions, more young people would have the capability to stay in school to pursue higher education without being slammed with shocking debt.
I am not a first-year student, but if I had been taught to be more financially aware when I was, maybe it could have helped me with my grim financial situation now — and maybe many others, too. After all, studies have shown that other people who are not financially knowledgeable will follow the trend if more students are financially aware.
With the right tools presented to those of us who are in need, anyone can have a higher chance of pursuing their chosen careers without the looming shadow of debt.
J.C. Balicanta Narag
Photo: Riley Deacon / Photo Editor