Visa said it has distributed more than 55,000 copies of a much-hyped financial education program for college students that it released last fall.

An additional 15,000 consumers have downloaded the software off the Internet, the San Francisco-based credit association said. Visa is now pitching the product to individual colleges.

The college edition of Choices & Decisions: Taking Charge of Your Life covers budgeting, credit card management, and loan acquisition in a self- study format. The program was first issued in 1991 as an aid to high school students.

The college version comes in both software and brochure formats. The computer package, which can be opened through the Internet, is also available on campus and at banks. It contains an interactive computer disc with a budget worksheet on which college students match spending and savings to their incomes.

A quiz game, which purports to teach students more about money management, is also included. Additional text covers money management fundamentals.

The brochure, intended for students without computer access, includes a budget worksheet and tips on credit card management and loan acquisition.

Matt Price, Visa's director of consumer credit products, said the college version of Choices lays the groundwork for "responsible card usage" by college students.

Consumer advocates have long contended that unwary college students are frequently exploited by slick credit card marketing campaigns. The card associations, not surprisingly, see things differently, citing endeavors such as Choices as proof of their responsible and well-intentioned dealings with students.

"Programs such as Choices serve to counter negative perceptions about credit card companies and enhance their public image," said Eric Weil, publisher of the Collegiate Trends newsletter in New Jersey.

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