TG Report Offers Recommendations for Improving Student Loan Counseling

By Charlotte Etier, NASFAA Research Analyst

A report released today by TG, in collaboration with NASFAA, outlines policy steps for promoting effective student loan counseling. This report concludes a two-year long study focused on entrance and exit student loan counseling, and identifies specific policy and design changes that could improve current counseling efforts and allow students to be better equipped to navigate borrowing and repayment processes. TG’s prior research provided context and identified concerns regarding current practices. “We have learned a lot over the past two years,” said Jeff Webster, TG’s director of research and the project lead. “Now we have to use that knowledge to better empower borrowers to be their own best advocates.”

Key findings include:

  • Student loan counseling legislation allows for online delivery while prescribing detailed explanations of numerous topics, resulting in long, text-heavy counseling.
  • As past research would predict, borrowers tend to find the online counseling modules tedious, cumbersome, and generally unhelpful; however, simple changes could result in large improvements.
  • Many institutions have implemented more rigorous counseling programs that may provide models for other schools and for policy changes.  

This report draws attention to the lack of existing research on the topic of student loan counseling. Despite increased attention to student loans, student debt, and the cost of college that have taken place in public and policymaking conversations. Overall, the report concludes that loan counseling must take into account how students interact with and use information in order to be effective - something the present tools currently lack.

Recommended changes from the report to help improve student loan counseling include:

  • Congress could allow schools to require additional loan counseling;
  • Congress could grant the Department of Education the flexibility to make online counseling simpler and more personalized;
  • Initial online loan counseling could accompany the FAFSA, which beginning this year will become available in October rather than January for the following academic year, helping students consider the financial implications of their application and enrollment decisions;
  • Institutions could be incentivized to enhance their loan counseling resources; and
  • The student loan system could be simplified and counseling could be refocused on practical knowledge and skills, not unhelpful details.

As previously shared in Today’s News, this report, part of a multiphase research project, is the fifth in a series of reports by TG on student loan counseling in the United States. 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, the third report on the efficacy of entrance counseling in May, and the fourth report outlining best practices in September.

"The process of borrowing and repaying student loans can seem quite daunting to students and parents, so the earlier we can get information about college costs and paying for college into the hands of students and families, the better," said NASFAA President Justin Draeger. "Tailoring the relevant information to the student will also go a long way toward making the process more streamlined and less confusing."


Publication Date: 1/27/2016

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