Texas Law to Compel Students to Figure out “How to Pay for Higher Education”

A new Texas law aims to try to get all high school students thinking about how to pay for college. Under legislation passed in 2011, high school students must have “financial literacy” designed to help them navigate the cost of college. According to an article by Maria Luisa Cesar in the San Antonio Express News:

As tuition costs soar and the price of a college degree continues to be a barrier to enrollment, a state law that goes into effect this year will require all Texas public high schools to instruct students on how to pay for higher education.

And in a closely watched pilot program, the San Antonio Independent School District already is doing it, teaching financial literacy — backed by a flock of hawk-eyed counselors — in a bid to get every high school senior to fill out the free application for federal student aid, better known as FAFSA.

Ah, but true financial literacy might lead many Texas students to conclude, correctly, that they can’t afford to attend college.

In 2011 the Texas legislature passed House Bill 34, “one of several measures designed to increase students’ financial competency as college tuition costs increase.”

This is an interesting strategy, but how much can learning about college costs lead people to attend college? It’s true that some more courses about college costs (and some encouragement about filling out FAFSA forms) might get more students to apply to college. According to the article the San Antonio financial aid lessons will work like this:

The lessons are designed to take four or five days to teach and offer instruction on how to analyze financial aid packages, how best to estimate the real cost of college and what students can expect to earn in various career fields.

But the cost of attending a public college in Texas has increased 55 percent since 2003. If the state really wants more students graduate from institutions of higher learning with manageable finances, it’s going to have to do better than four days lessons about financial aid packages; it’s probably going to have to address the structure of those packages.

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Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer