f you followed the news coming out of the N.C. General Assembly at all over the last year, you’re likely to think not a lot got accomplished.
Regarding the big stuff, you’d be right. A new budget wasn’t passed, in large part because Medicaid expansion wasn’t passed. Gridlock has generally been the rule of the day.
However, some things were accomplished that flew largely under the radar, and one of them was a requirement that North Carolina public school students will be required to pass a class in finance in order to graduate.
It’s hard to argue that requirement isn’t necessary, because we are a nation awash in debt, and students are among the top victims of falling into credit traps.
The credit reporting agency Experian said outstanding student loan debt reached a record high in 2019, topping $1.4 trillion.
On top of that, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports Americans now hold $1 trillion in credit card debt. The average credit card debt in North Carolina is $8,062.
It’s easy to get trapped in a debt cycle. If you owe $10,000 in debt at a 15 percent interest rate and make decreasing minimum payments, it will take you 28 years to clear that debt. Along the way you’ll pay $12,000 in interest.
Wrapping together credit card debt, student loans, car loans and mortgages, total consumer debt in the country tallies nearly $14 trillion.
So yes, a little bit of a heads-up to students pursuing a secondary degree, a car or a home regarding debt is a good idea. North Carolina’s course covers college debt, what a credit score means, how to manage credit cards and the ins and outs of a home mortgage.
On the downside the finance class may come at a cost to another topic we’re woefully lacking in – history.
Right now, students in the state have to take four social studies classes to graduate – American History 1 and II, American History: Founding Principles, Civics and Economics; and World History. In the next school year that lineup is World History, American History, Founding Principles of the United States of America and North Carolina, as well as Economics and Personal Finance.
In our view, kids can’t get enough history, or civics, classes. The former represents our collective memory, the latter how our Republic works.
The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation ran a little experiment in 2018 and found that only a third of Americans could pass a multiple-choice test of questions taken from the U.S. Citizenship Test. Sixty percent of respondents didn’t know the countries the U.S. was fighting in World War II.
North Carolina should do what it can to keep young citizens from walking into the debt trap. It should also make sure they’re not sleepwalking through history, unaware of how they got here.
It’s not an either-or proposition.