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Archive for Wednesday, November 7, 2001

College credit

November 7, 2001

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College students may believe they should be treated as adults, but some say they aren't quite ready to deal with the temptation of easy credit.

The issue of marketing credit cards on the Kansas University campus is putting student leaders in an unusual role.

College students are a pretty independent bunch. They can vote; they can drive. They would argue that they are able to make most of their own decisions. They would scoff at the university rules of a generation ago that enforced closing hours and regulated visitors of the opposite sex in university housing.

Many would argue that, although the legal drinking age is 21, they are able to handle alcohol and make mature decisions about its consumption. In other words, they are adults and ought to be able to make adult decisions.

And yet, student leaders now are making the case that students shouldn't have to deal with the temptation presented by credit card companies that solicit new customers on campus. Such solicitations are common, and student leaders are asking the KU Student Senate to support some regulation on credit card vendors.

It's clear that some students aren't ready to handle the responsibility of a credit card. A KU financial aid official cited some figures she received at a recent financial aid conference. Those figures show that 78 percent of college students have credit cards and the average student has three credit cards. More importantly, the average credit-card debt among students is $2,900.

That would be a significant debt for someone who was working full-time, but for students who are producing little or no income, it's an overwhelming amount. So whose responsibility is it?

It's interesting that credit card companies are willing to issue cards to people who have no jobs and, therefore, no apparent way to repay the debt they will run up. In many cases, they probably have no personal credit history. No job and no credit record probably would disqualify the average credit card applicant, but students seem to be in a different class, perhaps because credit card companies depend on many students' primary source of income their parents to bail them out of debt.

The stand of the Kansas Bankers Assn. on this issue is not unreasonable. An official of the association said that college students should be treated as adults, "If they don't want something, they need to learn to say no."

That's true, but it might make sense for the university to make saying "no" to credit cards a little easier. Credit card companies have made inroads into the KU market by paying the Kansas Union and student organizations to sponsor their solicitations. It's an easy way for campus groups to help fund their operations, but it's also an easy way to get individual students into financial trouble.

Students certainly can get credit cards if they want them, but it might be better for the university not to aid in the transaction. If the students themselves are seeking restrictions on credit card solicitations on campus, university administrators might be well-advised to listen to their plea.

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