As Accountability Increases, Loan Counseling Should Become More Targeted, Personalized

By Allie Bidwell, Communications Staff

As colleges and universities are increasingly scrutinized for how their graduates fare in student loan repayment, it’s important for loan counseling to become more comprehensive, particularly for graduate and professional students, according to a new report from the Access Group Center for Research & Policy Analysis.

The report — released last week and written by Patricia Steele and Chad Anderson — gives recommendations for how schools, as well as individual loan counselors, can improve counseling for graduate and professional students, whose debt makes up 40 percent of all outstanding student loan debt nationally. It’s important for loan counseling to be more robust for these students, according to the report, because unlike undergraduate students, graduate and professional students have nearly unlimited borrowing. Because there are no annual or cumulative limits to their borrowing, graduate and professional students can borrow up to the total cost of attendance, making it easier for them to over-borrow without proper counseling.

"The continuing increase in the levels of debt per student and the percentage of students who borrow raises the importance for gaining a solid understanding of relevant personal financial principles," said Christopher Chapman, president and CEO for Access Group, in a statement. "In this context, broad financial literacy education is both an equity and student success issue at every level of postsecondary education."

Steele and Anderson make their own observations about loan counseling, and also draw from conclusions from a series of reports by TG Research and Analytical Services (with help from NASFAA), as well as a project by the Council of Graduate Schools.

In the new report, Steele and Anderson recommend schools offering in-person loan counseling, and developing resources for students before they use modules from the Department of Education, which tend to be more geared toward undergraduate students. They also suggest making loan counseling more individualized by incorporating things like annual debt reviews, online monitoring tools, and gradual fund disbursements to help keep students on track and to keep repayment manageable. And these interventions, Steele and Anderson wrote, should be targeted to those students most at risk.

Still, they wrote, it’s necessary to conduct more research on how effective different financial education programs and interventions are, particularly when they’re targeted toward a specific group.  

"The time may be ripe for stakeholders in higher education and student loan counseling to enter the evidence-based era," the report said. "To that end, increased research efforts and collaboration among postsecondary institutions, companies, organizations, and other stakeholders overseeing graduate education are crucial to supporting advocacy for graduate students, particularly those from underprivileged backgrounds."


Publication Date: 3/23/2016

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