How Michigan schools can produce financially responsible graduates

The public education system should teach the skills that develop ‘competent citizens’

What was the goal of building the public education system?

As good a take as any is offered by George Washington University's Center for Education Policy:

Preparing people for democratic citizenship was a major reason for the creation of public schools. The Founding Fathers maintained that the success of the fragile American democracy would depend on the competency of its citizens.

What does “the competency of its citizens” mean? Does it mean that everyone goes to college, obtains a degree, and competes to become a CEO, doctor, or engineer? Or does it mean citizens who use their unique abilities to contribute to society in a variety of careers will have a chance to earn a living?

We have a large population of people calling for the federal government to pay off student loans, forcing taxpayers to subsidize the educations of the college-degreed. Why did these former or present students not take advantage of college education as a way to boost their earnings potential? Aren’t college grads supposed to earn $1 million more over their lifetimes than people with only high school diplomas? (According to CNBC, half of student loan debt is for graduate school, which often yields even higher incomes.) Why do they need help?

They don’t. They just don’t want to face the responsibility of their decisions. And then there are others who most likely had no idea they would someday have to repay student loans. Their parents didn’t teach them about interest, and they didn’t learn it in high school.

An education system that aimed to develop competent citizens would revamp requirements for high school graduation. Not everyone plans to go to college, but we need financially competent citizens to continue growing as a state and a nation.

How beneficial would it be if students spent an entire semester on finance? Topics could include:

o Bank statements. How to reconcile a bank account to ensure all expenditures are accounted for.

o Savings and investments. How much should be put aside for savings and retirement.

o Credit. How to build it and how it affects loans.

o Loans and mortgages. How to search for the best possible interest rates.

o Taxes. Legal and personal finance aspects.

o Household budgeting.

Pythagoras might weep to see himself downgraded in the curriculum. But students who love math should be sent down that path earlier, and at a greater depth, rather than wasting time in general education classes.

Michigan public schools have every opportunity to produce financially responsible graduates. It's time they get started.

Next week, I will write about how civics and even physical education can be overhauled to improve the student experience.

Jamie A. Hope is assistant managing editor of Michigan Capitol Confidential. Email her at

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.