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Financial Aid

Despite jarring news headlines depicting students with six-figure debt levels, the average student borrower’s debt burden is not necessarily devastating.

Among graduates in 2011 who borrowed to pay for higher education, the average loan debt at graduation was $26,600, according to the Project on Student Debt. Only 1.5 percent of borrowers owed $100,000 or more in 2007-2008, according to an analysis by Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of Edvisors Network.

Being a financial aid administrator is an accident waiting to happen these days. The soaring costs for college have produced a soaring amount of applications for assistance, creating a constant stream of traffic at the Financial Aid Office. There are times when it resembles an all-day rush hour, with students and parents in a hurry to get in and get out with some part of the gold they’re convinced is hidden there.

For a school to operate at peak efficiency—and best serve students—it is necessary for various administrative departments to understand the purpose and daily operations of other offices. In particular, the activities and regulations that impact the financial aid office can have widespread effects on the rest of the campus. With that in mind, here are 10 tips to help all departments work cohesively with the financial aid office:

Stable funding of federal Pell Grants, one of the nation’s main financial aid programs for low-income students, would increase affordability and accessibility, according to many groups with a stake in higher education. But despite its decades-long history of assisting financially needy students, the program also faces perennial threats to its funding.

As student loan debt levels and default rates in the United States continue to climb, consumers remain concerned about the accessibility and affordability of higher education. The average overall loan debt for bachelor’s degree recipients is fairly manageable (about $26,500 for the class of 2011, according to The Institute for College Access and Success). Still, students and families are shouldering a greater portion of the cost of college through loans than they ever have before.

A House bill, the Earnings Contingent Education Loans (ExCEL) Act of 2012, attempts to reduce complexity, improve default rates, and increase the effectiveness of federal student loan subsidies—and would dramatically alter the way federal student loans are paid back. On Dec. 17, Rep. Tom Petri (R-Wis.) introduced the bill, which would provide unsubsidized loans and require income-contingent repayment for all borrowers through a payroll withholdings system.

Feedback from private student loan borrowers reveals they hold a host of common misconceptions about their loans. In comments and complaints submitted to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), borrowers demonstrate a lack of knowledge about the difference between private and federal student loans, how bankruptcy can impact their loans, who holds and services their loans, what repayment options they have, and more. The consequences of these misunderstandings include unexpected default, forbearance fees, and ineligibility for repayment incentives.

Record numbers of students enrolling in college as well as an increasing reliance on student loans to finance the growing cost of college has vaulted student aid into the national spotlight this campaign season.

Both presidential campaigns are dedicating an unprecedented amount of time articulating their widely varying policies aimed at making college more affordable.

President Barack Obama’s administration has pushed for more student aid spending and more regulations to increase the return on the federal investment in higher education.

Despite Federal District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras’ ruling that negates a primary metric of the U.S. Department of Education’s “gainful employment” regulations, the DOE still has authority to regulate gainful employment programs and schools should continue to look for ways to promote the financial success of their students.

The roughly 9 million students who rely on subsidized federal loans will see interest rates double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent on loans borrowed after July 1. It’s just the latest chapter in the nearly 50-year saga of the federal government trying to determine the appropriate rate for these loans.

The Obama administration has urged Congress to extend the 3.4 percent rate for one year, but an extension would cost an estimated $3.9 billion. Students and parents trying to plan and pay for college face confusion and uncertainty.