MADISON, Wis. -

As student loan debt surpasses $1 trillion in this country, the nation's top consumer advocate believes college students need to be better prepared to handle money when they step on campus in the first place.

Richard Cordray, the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, made the comments on Wednesday at a conference hosted by Wisconsin's Financial Literacy and Education Commission on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. Cordray said financial literacy needs to become a core part of the K-12 curriculum.

"It needs to be with math, social studies, and English," Cordray said in an interview with News 3. "It needs to be a focus when kids get to high school especially to prepare them for when they're on their own. There are things they need to know that will very much impact their success or failure in life even beyond their respective abilities."

The bureau was created after the collapse last decade of the housing and banking markets with an emphasis on protecting consumers in areas of household credit and household finance. Its website features information on areas like mortgages, student loans, and credit cards. It also hosts a searchable database for consumer complaints. Currently, there are more than 200,000 reported problems that bureau workers are helping to solve for consumers.

"Cleaning up things after the fact is never very satisfying," Cordray said. "It's important to deter people. It's important to enforce the law, but to the extent we can prevent it up front, that's even better. And to the extent we can put people in a position to prevent problems for themselves up front, that's best of all."