As stress mounts for students filing individual tax returns by the April 15 deadline, the lack of financial guidance available to University undergraduates is painfully evident. The complexity of the income-tax system, coupled with such dangers as identity theft, warrants a program to prepare students in Columbia College, the School of Engineering and Applied Science, and the School of General Studies for the financial hurdles of the real world.
Because Columbia does not supply personal-finance education, many students are woefully unprepared to file taxes, manage banking and investments, and take out insurance policies after graduation. Without a program that assists students in filing taxes or handling their money, students who work while at Columbia or who pay their own way through college are often ignorant of the tax systems, overly reliant on their parents' knowledge, or forced to pay for expensive guidance through private banks. Moreover, the alarming frequency of identity theft—which the University acknowledged in the course of issuing new University ID cards—places students at risk without a lifesaver.
Though Columbia students take pride in their independence and have no wish to be coddled, financial guidance should be available to those who seek it. Columbia should learn from Barnard's Office of Career Development, which runs a Financial Fluency program in conjunction with residence halls and clubs. In addition to holding office hours, the program hosts such workshops as Insurance and Taxes, Saving Plans and Investments, and Credit Card Management and Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft. The University should offer similar services for CC, SEAS, and GS students.
However much academic excellence contributes to post-graduation success, the modern world also requires that students know how to handle their money. Next tax season, students shouldn't have to go it alone.