A Multi-Faceted Approach to Loan Counseling Produces the Most Success

Charlotte Etier, NASFAA Research Analyst

A report released today by TG, in collaboration with NASFAA, highlights the best practices of eight colleges that are choosing to facilitate extra efforts to make loan counseling more meaningful and effective. Common themes across the efforts are explored, and institutions detail how they worked within their budgets and available resources to create programs and processes for their particular student populations.

With the help of NASFAA, TG identified eight colleges offering exemplary loan counseling practices to include in the paper. Schools represented both public and private, two-year and four-year, non-for-profit and for-profit institutions across the country. While each institution had a different focus or strategy, they all wanted to provide their student borrowers with a better understanding of their loans than they could receive through just the Department of Education's (ED) online loan counseling. Cheryl Willard – associate financial aid director at Baldwin Wallace University, one school studied in the report – said “for students to be successful in today’s world, they need a sense of financial awareness.”

“Colleges and universities have a unique opportunity to provide this type of training, and the programs and outreach offered by institutions featured in this study can help start those conversations,” she said.

Despite their differences in the student populations served, several common themes were found across the best practices the programs suggested, including:

  • Cross training: between and within departments to reduce confusion and increase success.
  • Holistic approach: creating an environment to give students a broad financial education.
  • Marketing: using many points and types of contact to reach students during their time in school.
  • Targeting: how schools decide what services to offer and students to target.
  • In-person loan counseling: what most institutions used as their key strategy.
  • Peer-to-peer mode: Using well-trained students as financial coaches for hands-on experience.
  • Data-drive approach: Using a multi-faceted approach to student success that included a well-rounded financial education.

“The institutions featured in our report have taken innovative approaches to help borrowers become better informed about their student loan debt,” said Carla Fletcher, TG senior research analyst and the report’s author. “They’ve designed the students’ exposure to loan counseling to be as effective as possible.”

As previously shared in Today’s News, this report, part of a multiphase research project, is the fourth in a series of reports by TG on student loan counseling in the United States. TG used these common themes and the findings of previous reports in this series to make practitioner and policy recommendations. Practitioner recommendations included using data for improvement and trying to market loan counseling and financial education information as mush as possible. Policy recommendations focused more on allowing institutions to require annual loan counseling and increasing resources for loan counseling and financial literacy.

TG’s research team released the first report on the efficacy of loan exit counseling in February, the second report providing historical context for loan counseling in March, and the third report on the efficacy of entrance counseling in May. A final paper will synthesize the findings and implications of the four studies and offer broader conclusions on the policy and practice of student loan counseling.

“Our members — financial aid administrators from all postsecondary sectors — are very concerned about whether current loan counseling is meeting the needs of students,” said NASFAA President and CEO Justin Draeger. “Innovative experiments within constrained budgets and with limited staff like the ones conducted as part of this report are essential as we all seek ways to better serve students.”


Publication Date: 9/21/2015

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