With financial and economic hardships plaguing the nation, a logical assumption would be that people are now taking a closer look at their money and making a greater effort to understand our financial system in order to combat these tough times.
However, most people, especially students, are not equipped to untangle the intricacies of their finances.
A recent survey conducted by Annamaria Lusardi of George Washington University and Olivia S. Mitchell of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania revealed that financial literacy is especially low among young people, women and the less-educated.
Our Editorial Board saw these results and realized that even though we are all studying at a highly-ranked public university, many of us have trouble understanding basic items such as our bank statements or ZOT Accounts. Why is that?
We believe the problem to be two-fold. First, the institutions that present these materials do not always make it the easiest to understand. For example, let’s take a look at our ZOT Account. The sections that list current and future transactions have vague descriptions and sometimes contain mistakes. An incoming student may have no idea what “CR” means on the bill, and the jumble of numbers and different categories can be overwhelming for students unfamiliar with the system.
This fact leads into the second part of the problem, which is that when students go to the Financial Aid office or the Registrar to question or try and understand their ZOT Account, they do not always receive the resources and support that they need. Students have to push and persist if they want to talk to a counselor instead of a student peer-advisor; the main Financial Aid office phone number doesn’t allow for voicemails or a reliable opportunity to speak with a representative; and email correspondence can be limited and sometimes not even responded to.
However, we are not blaming this issue entirely on the institution. Because the system can be so unreliable and inaccessible, students need to take the initiative to educate themselves through other means to make sure they are receiving the services they deserve.
A basic accounting and financial literacy class should be a General Education requirement for all students. We need to be taught how to tackle our finances and survive this economy — arguably a more pressing educational requirement than how to identify different types of rocks, which is currently one of the available options for satisfying a GE. If students are going to be forced to participate in the absurdity of general education, the information gained from this requirement should at least be applicable and useful.
Regardless of whether a class like this does become mandatory in the future, students should start taking the initiative.
Educate yourself by reading up on banking or financial systems online. If your questions cannot be answered there, push your way through the bureaucracy until someone responds and gives a correct and satisfying answer.
The system is frustrating and can be hard to navigate through, but we are its intended users. We can strive to reform the system, but in this case, it might just be easier to reform ourselves first.
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