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More college students finding Personal Finance a must-have class
Author: Brent Hunsberger, Oregonian. June 7, 2014
Posted: June 18, 2014

Read original story here.

Miriah Page boosted her credit score by 100 points.

Mark Morrissey refinanced his home mortgage.

Yoshiko Inoue carved $120 a month out of her spending that she's now able to save.

All three students took Brenda Eichelberger's personal finance class at Portland State University – one of a large and growing number of colleges nationwide that have expanded their personal finance offerings .

For students, even older ones, the impact is immediate, measurable and memorable.

"I wish I'd had this stuff 45 years ago," said Morrissey, 58, a mail-processing clerk for the U.S. Postal Service in Portland and a late-blooming PSU student. "There's a lot of things that could make a lot of difference to a young person."

With more freshmen entering school with limited financial experience and leaving with more debt than ever, colleges are taking it upon themselves to educate their students in the ways of credit, budgeting and saving.

"We have a responsibility to address and provide this information to our students," Eichelberger said. "And there's a big demand for it."

PSU now requires business minors to take personal finance (FIN 218). It's considering requiring it for business majors as well, Eichelberger said. It now offers 11 of the classes a year, up from 7 in 2013 – reaching about 500 students, up from 300 a year ago. Eichelberger also teaches an online version to distance-learning students such as Page, a PSU alum who lives in Westwood, N.J.

"It was a really good class for me," said Page of her winter term, "although I wish I would've taken it when I had gone to school there. I feel it should be a requirement for every single college student."

PSU also has a high proportion of first generation college students and students who've already spent time in the workforce. The average age of its undergraduates is 26, according to PSU's Transfer Student Services, and many transfer to PSU already carrying debt, Eichelberger said.

This personal finance class doesn't require knowledge of Excel or 70-year projections of saving and spending. But it does require students to prepare their own financial plan.

They start by setting short-, intermediate- and long-term goals; picking their ideal job; researching how much income they'll make in that career after two years and drafting a resume for the job search.

Part 2 requires them to get a grasp of their current financial picture. They estimate their net worth, obtain their credit report or FICO score and take stock of their insurance coverage. They complete a detailed worksheet comparing renting with buying.

They also go on a "Dollar Diet," writing down what they think they spend on food, transportation and other categories. Then they track what they actually spend for a month. The exercise changed some behaviors.

"I haven't seen Maleficent yet because I keep telling myself I'm broke," Emma Lewins, 22, told the class on Monday.

Moments earlier, Lewins and her 30 classmates had handed in Part 3 of their plan. In that, they estimate their risk tolerance for investing, interview others about their goals and check their life expectancy at livingto100.com or DeathClock.com. They also do a mini-estate plan, writing a letter of last instruction that many found eye-opening.

Many in the class said developing a plan gave them confidence about their future.

"I just learned how to write a check 3 months ago," said Jaclyn Humphry, a freshman. "I really want to be financially stable in my life, because my family wasn't. I love this class."

A push by the Council of Graduate Schools has universities nationwide studying and offering new ways to improve financial know-how. University of South Florida freshmen must pass an online financial literacy course, according to the council's website. Winthrop University is expanding its personal finance class beyond business majors.

Cornell University and Arkansas State are dispatching peer mentors to serve as resources for fellow students. Loyola University Chicago and Iowa State are using online or mobile games. Iowa State also is offering one-on-one individual counseling and follow-up coaching.

Morrissey said he used what he learned in PSU's class to refinance into a mortgage charging 3.75 percent interest, down from 6.75 percent.

As part of a class assignment, he discovered his credit report mistakenly included an auto loan that belonged to his son, potentially complicating his refinance. After refinancing, he used the $400 he saved in monthly mortgage payments to build up a 6-month emergency savings cushion and boost his retirement plan contributions.

Llane Arango, a junior and business major, said the wonders of compounding interest impressed her to open and begin contributing to an IRA.

"Before this class, that thought hadn't even occurred to me," Arango said before class on Monday. "I'm 21. I thought I could put that off until I had a high paying job. I learned it's never too early to start.

"Even though I'm a college student and money is tight, I found I was able to save," she said. "I'm saving $30 a month right now for retirement."

Page, 33, manager of business process at Ralph Lauren Corp., had been unable to qualify for a home loan before taking Eichelberger's class. She closed credit cards, paid others down well below their credit limit, challenged two inaccuracies and, ultimately, improved her score. She's pre-qualified for a home loan and is about to make an offer on her first home.

Page dropped an online writing class because it wasn't engaging, but stuck with personal finance because Eichelberger's video lectures and Google Hangout chats made financial topics approachable.

"It's something I wasn't comfortable with before this class," Page said. "It's something I must've been avoiding. (Brenda) really makes it easy for you to understand."