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The student loan crisis is an epidemic.

The horror stories of young adults leaving college with debts in excess of $100,000 have become all-too commonplace.

It’s a situation that can result in a cavernous financial hole that is impossible to escape. It can become a black mark on the student’s credit that never goes away.

Often, young graduates use high-interest credit cards to pay off their student loans, which just exacerbates an already bad situation.

That’s why it’s absolutely imperative that high school students learn early on the critical importance of handling their personal finances.

That’s also why we fully support a state Senate bill that would allow personal finance courses to count as a credit toward fulfilling graduation requirements in social studies, family and consumer science, mathematics or business education.

Senate Bill 723, which passed unanimously in the state Senate on Sept. 23, is now in the House Education Committee. There is optimism that the bill will pass the House, as well, before going to Gov. Tom Wolf for his signature.

"If this can help the next generation be a little more prudent and keep them out of either credit-card or student-loan debt, then it’s a big win for us," said bill sponsor Sen. Daniel Laughlin, R-Erie.

Not a mandate: It is important to note that the bill is not a mandate, but rather gives schools the flexibility to use finance courses as graduation requirements. It’s a much-needed incentive to get our kids into the courses.

That was key to getting the unanimous Senate support. Many legislators, especially on the Republican side of the aisle, are dead set against adding any more mandates on our school districts. That's understandable. Our schools are already burdened with a ton of legislative mandates that can be difficult to fulfill.

Senate Bill 723 is a practical, bi-partisan solution to a critical problem.

Schools should make it a requirement: However, we would encourage all of our local school districts to make the personal finance courses a requirement, not just an option.

Northern York High School, in fact, has already taken that step. Beginning with the class of 2022, Northern will require students to take one of two classes with personal finance elements to graduate — one of which will count for math, and the other for a social studies credit.

South Western High School, meanwhile, already requires seniors to take personal finance but doesn't make it a credit required to graduate. South Western Principal Keith Downs, however, said the district would definitely be interested in doing so if the bill became law.

Personal finance courses can work: There is some local anecdotal evidence that a personal finance course can have a positive impact on the decisions of students.

Northern Principal Steve Lehman remembers one student who had been considering a large investment in a top college, but it wasn't until taking the course that she realized there were better options for her. Her parents told him they'd been having those conversations with her for months.

"That kind of stuff makes me feel like this was the right move," Lehman said, adding that having this information in course curriculum sometimes makes students more likely to use it than hearing it at home.

Pivotal decision: Choosing a college can be the most important decision in a high school student’s life. It can have a life-long impact, for both finances and careers.

Anything we can do to help our students make prudent and practical choices should be encouraged.

Students must learn that their “dream schools” can sometimes turn into nightmares and leave them with a debt that they can never escape.

That’s why teaching our students proper personal finance should be required. It could be the most important course our students ever take.

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