Ga. college program teaches financial literacy

Going to college is good, but graduating with the smallest amount of debt possible is even better.

Students at Atlanta Technical College are the first in a pilot program with credit counseling agency Clearpoint Financial Solutions designed to a teach financial literacy. The “Smart Scholars: Graduating with Cents” program, launched Thursday, helps students cut their student loan debt, but also teaches long-term spending and budgeting skills.

The collaboration comes as college costs have continued to increase and the outstanding student loan debt exceeds $1.3 trillion nationally, including$15.1 million owed by Georgia borrowers on federal student loans, according to data released this month by the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

“We see the next (debt) crisis and want to get ahead of it,” said Tai Roberson, Clearpoint’s director of development.

Many of the students at Atlanta Technical College are over the age of 25 when they enroll in one of the school’s many programs. At this age, the students may not only face the usual college expenses, but also other financial issues, including credit card and other outstanding debts.

Before Purcell Wilson began his medical billing and coding program at Atlanta Tech, he had to pay off an old student loan from 1991, that had gone into default and was hurting his credit rating. When he completes his degree next year, he expects to have about $19,000 in new student loan debt to pay off.

Participating in the Smart Scholars program was important for Wilson, who wants to learn more about managing his money, reducing his spending and improving his credit score from where it sits in the 400s.

“I’ve been out of school like 30 years,” said Wilson, 49, who has worked for years in the restaurant industry. “I knew it was time to change my life and go back to school.”

About 40 students are in the initial group of Smart Scholars at Atlanta Tech. Plans are to expand the program, which is funded through the Georgia Power Foundation. The training includes one-on-one financial counseling with Clearpoint representatives, along with webinars and other online budgeting tools.

President Alvetta Peterman Thomas sees the program as reminiscent of the “give a man a fish proverb.”

“It breaks my heart to see students come back each semester” seeking small loans to pay a bill or a car payment, she said, hopefully the Smart Scholars program will help with long-term budgeting.

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