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Fife High students get a crash course on debt

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This year, the amount of student debt in America reached $1.2 trillion, with much more on the way. This is of great concern to Credit Abuse Resistance Education (CENTS), a non-profit that provides financial classes, counseling and legal services to vulnerable populations. On Wednesday, Oct. 5, 36 Fife High School students got a free presentation from CENTS focusing on viable college plans that won’t leave students drowning in debt.
The presentation, known as “Debt Slapped,” asks students not only what their college plans are, but to also research how much it would cost to get a degree from that institution, how much the students would be paying back with interest and the average starting salary of students’ dream job. After filling out a simple sheet, students get a tangible number of how much money they will have for living expenses after a monthly payment on their loans. They also dived into the differences between subsidized and unsubsidized loans, borrowing from the government or private lenders, and accreditations for schools, essentially giving a crash course on what many college-grad 20-somethings wished they knew before committing.
CENTS has been coming to Fife High School for five years, and this is the first year the presentation was held outside of school hours and in a longer format.
“I think this is the fifth year that I have been working with them and every year it has evolved. Last year we did it in February and we decided that’s too late; it really needs to be in the fall and we did it during a class period, so they had 50 minutes and it wasn’t enough time. This year we wanted the ability to bring all the kids together at one time in one room and that’s how this transpired,” Fife High teacher Laura Hilzendeger said.
Hilzendeger helps organize the event every year because of her own experiences getting out of college, and the knowledge that students often don’t think about their financial future.
“For me it’s important because in 1984 I was in this position myself and when I graduated from college in ‘89 I was one of those statistics dealing with how I was going to pay my financial aid and all my packages back. To me it’s an important, real life issue that kids don’t think about,” Hilzendeger said.
Hilzendeger and CENTS don’t want the presentation to be a cynical one; they simply want students to think about how they will achieve their goals.
“[Students] start to plan for ‘well, I guess I can’t go to school there,’ and I don’t want that to be the truth either. I want you to go where you want to go and there are ways to make sure that you can do what you want to do – you can follow your dream, you can follow your passion and you can still afford it and not graduate with a degree and be poor,” Hilzendeger said.
While these presentations are helpful for students about to enter the real world, representatives from CENTS think the process has to start much earlier to have a more meaningful impact, and with a recent senate bill that may just happen. State Superintendent Randy Dorn signed SB 5202 on Sept. 27, directing the incorporation of financial education concepts into K-12 education.
“What we have now are kids who graduate from high school and don’t even know the simple concepts of interest and savings. No matter how many of these programs we run, we can’t possibly educate young people sufficiently to prepare them for the complicated financial world they’re going to enter – it’s too late,” Karen Overstreet from CENTS said.
With the passage of the new bill, students will learn real-world financial skills beginning in kindergarten and continuing all through their education, focusing on concepts like credit and interest, insurance and budgets.
For more information on CENTS, visit www.centsprogram.org.

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