2019 news archives

ECMC's Paula Craw appointed to Active Minds board of directors

December 9, 2019

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WASHINGTON D.C.—Paula Craw, vice president of student success and outreach for Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECMC), has been appointed to the board of directors for Active Minds. ECMC is a nonprofit organization focused on helping students succeed through training and resources focused on financial literacy and college preparedness.

"Active Minds is incredibly fortunate to have Paula on our board," said Steve Lerman, Chairman, Active Minds. "Her keen understanding of the intersection of student debt and mental health make her a fantastic addition to our team."

Active Minds, headquartered in Washington, D.C., is a national nonprofit dedicated to changing the conversation about mental health on college campuses. The organization aims to bring suicide and mental health out in the open so that no one struggles alone. Founded in 2003 by Alison Malmon, who lost her brother to suicide, Active Minds is operating on more than 500 college campuses. Campus chapters employ a peer-led approach with students serving as passionate advocates, stigma fighters and educators for mental health.

"The work done by Alison and the Active Minds team is critical, and their mission aligns with ECMC's efforts to help students succeed throughout college," Craw said. "I know firsthand what it's like to lose someone dear to you by suicide. Raising awareness and shining light in darkness for potentially vulnerable college students is incredibly important."

About Active Minds
Active Minds is the nation's premier nonprofit organization supporting mental health awareness and education for young adults. Active Minds has a presence on over 800 college, university, and high school campuses nationwide, and is powered by a robust Chapter Network, the nationally acclaimed Send Silence Packing® exhibit, and inspiring Active Minds Speakers. The organization is dedicated to ending the silence and changing the conversation about mental health for everyone. To learn more, visit www.activeminds.org.

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What to do when your first student loan payment is due

The following article is from the Associated Press Newswires / The Washington Post

December 2, 2019

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The first student loan bills are arriving for the Class of 2019. If the grads are able to stick to the standard plan, they'll make payments every month for the next 10 years and be done with it.

But not all borrowers will knock out their loans so quickly. Among federal loan borrowers who began taking on debt in 2003-2004, just 1 in 4 had paid off their debt by 2015, according to the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics. As for the students with debt remaining, about 39% were still in repayment.

This year's recent graduates can improve their odds by setting a plan now to pay back the debt and stay on track moving forward, no matter what obstacles pop up.

"A plan will alleviate the stress you feel when you're unsure about what life looks like after college, and you have this debt to pay," says Tracie Miller-Nobles, an associate professor at Austin Community College and a member of the American Institute of CPAs' Consumer Financial Education Advocates.

Get Details On All Loans

Don't wait to find out how much money you owe. There's a chance your bill won't arrive before your first due date, student loans experts say.

"Just because you don't get a bill doesn't mean you don't owe the money," says Betsy Mayotte, president and founder of The Institute of Student Loan Advisors.

For federal loans, go to the student aid website or the National Student Loan Data System. To find private debt, visit annualcreditreport.com for a credit report, which lists private loan debt and the lender.

Once you know who holds the loans, call it to check or update your contact information. You can also create an online account to track payments.

Find the Right Repayment Plan

Your repayment goal should be to pay the least amount over time, Mayotte says. That's because the longer you pay off the loan, more interest will accumulate. For most borrowers, the standard 10-year repayment plan is the cheapest option.

For others, that may mean pursuing a loan forgiveness program, like Public Service Loan Forgiveness, which forgives federal loan debt after making 120 payments on an income-driven plan while working full-time for the government or a qualifying nonprofit.

High earners may pay off loans faster by asking their servicer to apply additional payments to their loan balance.

It's borrowers who face modest incomes or job uncertainty who have some thinking to do.

"There are a lot of options, and borrowers tend to get confused or distracted because there are so many options that aren't that drastically different," says Abril Hunt, outreach manager for ECMC, a nonprofit organization focused on student success.

Hunt recommends that borrowers who can't make payments on the standard plan try Revised Pay As You Earn, or REPAYE. It's the income-driven repayment plan that all graduates with federal loan borrowers can enroll in.

An income-driven repayment plan, like REPAYE, sets payments at a portion of your income, which can help fit them into your budget. You'll need to recertify your income each year. If you lose your job or don't have one yet, your payments could be as little as $0.

If you're not sure which plan to choose, use the Department of Education's repayment estimator to find out your payment on each plan.

Automate Payments

Once you've selected a plan, make sure you never miss a payment. Enroll in autopay, but be sure to have enough money in your bank account to cover those direct payments.

Autopay can save you money, too: All federal student loan servicers and most private lenders will reduce your interest rate by 0.25 percentage points when you enroll.

Have a Plan If You Run Into Trouble

If the worst happens — a costly medical emergency or job loss, for example — contact your servicer or lender as soon as possible. They can help you work out a short-term reduced payment plan, sign up for income-driven repayment or apply for a temporary postponement.

Pausing payments for a short period can give you breathing room. But interest may continue to grow, so try to pay the interest during this time to avoid higher debt.

Re-Evaluate Every Year

Your knee-jerk move might be to pick a plan with the lowest payment possible, Mayotte says.

"That might be the right thing to do for your first loan payments, but as your income grows and your living situation changes you don't want to leave it on autopilot," she says.

Set an annual reminder to reassess your repayment strategy. That could be tax time or when you recertify your income for an income-driven plan.

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ECMC assumes responsibility for loans guaranteed by Finance Authority of Maine (FAME)

December 2, 2019

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MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. Dec. 2, 2019—Effective December 1, Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECMC) became the designated guaranty agency for the Finance Authority of Maine (FAME) Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP) portfolio. Since the appointment of ECMC as the designated agency was made, ECMC has been working closely with FAME to ensure a smooth transition of services for students with outstanding loans made under FFELP.

"ECMC remains committed to providing high-quality customer service that FAME customers have come to expect," said Jan Hines, ECMC president and chief executive officer.

ECMC is the designated guarantor in Virginia, Oregon, Connecticut, California, Tennessee, South Carolina and Rhode Island, and the third-party guarantor servicer for five clients.

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Beyond 12, ECMC Announce Collaboration to Coach Nearly 200 College-Bound Students

Class of 2019 ECMC Scholars Receive Support to Thrive in College and Beyond

November 18, 2019

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Oakland, CA (November 18, 2019) — Beyond 12, the innovative college completion organization, and education nonprofit Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECMC) announce a new collaboration designed to support nearly 200 college-bound students as they transition into, thrive, and graduate from their respective colleges and universities.

"We are thrilled to work with the ECMC Scholars Program to help so many talented, hard-working students achieve their dream of earning a college degree," explained Beyond 12 Founder and CEO Alex Bernadotte. "I am looking forward to using our coaching platform—which combines our dynamic human coaches, our campus-specific MyCoach mobile app, and our back-end predictive and prescriptive analytics engine—to ensure that the students we are honored to serve together thrive in college and beyond."

The ECMC Scholars Program works with high school students who have potential. By providing extra support during their junior and senior years of high school, students develop strong academic and personal skills. Working with their team, including their high school and ECMC, students learn how to be successful in getting to and through postsecondary education. In addition, students who successfully complete the ECMC Scholars Program can benefit from up to $6,000 in scholarship support for their postsecondary education.

"We are proud to work with Beyond 12, an organization that shares our deep commitment to college access and success," said Sabrina Berg, ECMC's Scholars Program manager. "This collaboration provides our scholars with near-peer support from trained coaches who understand the challenges of higher education every step of the way."

Recognizing that students require additional support in the transition to college, the work of Beyond 12 expands the investment in students with additional mentorship and guidance.

Through a student-tracking platform and a personalized student coaching service, Beyond 12 works with high schools, college access programs, and colleges to provide their students with the academic, social, and emotional support they need to succeed in higher education. Today, 85 percent of students who are coached by Beyond 12 for four years either persist or graduate from college by their sixth year, as compared to 56 percent of first-generation college students nationwide.

Both ECMC and Beyond 12 bridge the gap between K-12 and postsecondary education for students who may not otherwise enroll and complete a degree or certificate program at a college, university, or career and technical education center. Beyond 12's innovative coaching model and data tracking will reinforce ECMC's financial and high school mentoring expertise to support students as they navigate challenges to prepare for and succeed in college.

This collaboration with ECMC is just one component of Beyond 12's bold strategy to coach one million historically underrepresented college students annually by 2025.

About Beyond 12

br> Beyond 12 is a high-tech, high-touch coaching platform that helps high schools, college access programs, and colleges provide their students with the academic, social, and emotional support they need to succeed in higher education. Founded by Alexandra Bernadotte in 2009, Beyond 12 works to dramatically increase the number of historically under-represented students who graduate from college. For more information about Beyond 12, visit www.beyond12.org.

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How to start paying back your student loans

The following article is from CNBC

November 13, 2019

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For recent college graduates, the approach of December brings a dose of harsh reality.

Federal student loans, which make up the bulk of student debt, generally have a six-month grace period after graduation to give borrowers time to get on their feet before they have to start repayment.

That means grads are just now facing their first bill.

Seven in 10 college seniors graduate in the red, owing about $30,000 per borrower, according to the most recent data from the Institute for College Access & Success — a hefty tab for those just starting out.

"It's a rude awakening for a lot of borrowers," said Kaitlin Walsh-Epstein, a vice president of marketing at Laurel Road, a student-loan refinancer.

The majority, or 64%, of students are solely responsible for repaying their student loans, according to this year's How America Pays for College report by Sallie Mae. Yet half haven't even researched repayment methods, the education lender found.

For those just getting caught up, here's a cheat sheet for what you need to do:

Step 1: Know your loans

Many borrowers have several loans, each potentially with a different interest rate, monthly due date and repayment period. That can be confusing.

"Cozy up to your debt," Walsh-Epstein said. "First and foremost, it's about understanding the loans you've taken out in the first place."

The first step in building a student loan repayment plan is understanding who you owe, whether it's the Department of Education or a bank, added Ashley Boucher, a spokesperson for Sallie Mae.

Then, determine how much you owe, including your interest rates and any accrued interest as well as your monthly due date.

By default, you are likely in a 10-year standard repayment plan but there are other options, including pay as you earn or income-based repayment. Ask your lender about what plan best suits you.

Step 2: Update your contact info

Chances are you've moved, changed your email address and have a new cellphone. Make sure each lender can reach you.

"As borrowers, we are responsible for making sure our contact information is accurate, including the correct address and email," said Abril Hunt, the outreach manager at Educational Credit Management Corporation, or ECMC, a nonprofit dedicated to helping student borrowers.

Hunt recommends reaching out to each loan servicer at the outset to establish a direct line of communication. "By being proactive, we are showing lenders that we want to work with them," she said.

Step 3: Establish a budget

Take your income minus expenses, including your rent, utilities and monthly loan tab, to determine if you can afford your loan payments.

"Once you have your budget set up, you can understand what you can afford — maybe you need to get a roommate or move home for a few months to make that minimum student loan payment," said Walsh-Epstein.

Use an app to track your spending or Sallie Mae's budget worksheet to create a plan to stay on top of your finances.

If your budget feels stretched too thin, look into income-based repayment programs, which allow you to pay a percentage of your income rather than a flat rate, as long as you are under a certain income threshold. Generally, you'll qualify if your federal student loan debt is higher than your annual discretionary income, according to the Education Department.

If you don't have a job yet and your cash flow is negative, consider a deferment or forbearance. A deferment lets you put your loan on hold for up to three years. If you don't qualify for a deferment, a forbearance lets you temporarily suspend payments for up to one year. However, in this case, interest will still accrue.

In each case, borrowers must apply for permission to postpone payments.

Step 4: Set up autopay

If you can afford your payments, sign up for autopay. An automatic program will decrease your chances of missing a payment and may come with the added perk of a modest interest-rate deduction on your loan.

A stretch of on-time payments will also put you on the right track to building a favorable credit history.

"That can make a big difference when you apply for a car loan, credit card, lease, mortgage or even a job," said Boucher.

Step 5: Give your tab a cash boost

If you are feeling flush from monetary gifts at graduation or a starting bonus, consider beefing up your first few payments.

"If and when you can, make more than the minimum payment each month. You'll pay off your loan faster, and you'll pay less interest," Boucher said. Just make sure extra payments go toward unsubsidized loans first, then toward loans with the highest interest rate.

You should also specify that those extra funds get applied to the principal of the loan and not to future interest payments.

However, if you are just getting on your feet, don't forgo the chance to build an emergency fund or max out contributions to a 401(k) plan, either.

Step 6: See if your employer will chip in

More employers are offering student-loan repayment benefits to their workers, which can help recent grads pay down their debt.

About 8% of companies, including Aetna, Fidelity and PwC, now offer taxable contributions to help employees repay student loans, up from 4% three years ago, according to the Society for Human Resource Management's 2019 Employee Benefits survey.

If you are job hunting, give extra consideration to potential employers that do offer a student loan assistance program.

Step 7: Consider consolidating or refinancing

Once you have a steady job, a salary and a credit history, call a few lenders or talk to a financial advisor about your options.

If you have several different loans, you might consider consolidating them. Or you may be able to refinance at a lower interest rate. You could also choose to extend the terms beyond the standard 10 years to lower your monthly payments.

But weigh the options first. Consolidating or refinancing to a private loan will forgo the safety nets that come with a federal loan, including income-based repayment programs and loan forgiveness, for those who would qualify.

Additionally, extending the term of the loan means you ultimately will pay more interest on the balance.

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What to do when student loan grace period ends

The following article is from U.S. News & World Report

November 7, 2019

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Students who rely on loans to pay for college may give little thought to the financial burden they've taken on until after graduation. But borrowers will quickly need to devise a plan for how to pay back student loans as their grace period comes to a close and repayment begins.

"They're thinking about graduating and looking for a job, and have kind of put off the idea of what they're going to owe until they leave," says Chris George, dean of admissions and financial aid at St. Olaf College in Minnesota.

Most students with federal loans will have about six months after graduation before repayment must begin. If a student graduated in the spring, his or her repayment would begin in the fall.

Here are steps that experts advise student loan borrowers take to get started:

  • Understand student loan grace periods
  • Know how much is owed
  • Contact the student loan servicer
  • Pick a repayment plan
  • Stick to a budget
  • Prioritize loan payments
  • Focus on the future

Understand Student Loan Grace Periods
Some student loans provide a grace period after students graduate, leave college or drop below half-time enrollment before they must begin repayment. The length of time of the grace period for most federal student loans is six months.

This period allows graduates time to obtain employment and make a plan for repayment.

But not all student loans provide a grace period. PLUS loans do not offer students a grace period; repayment must begin when the loan is fully disbursed.

Loans that do provide a six-month grace period include direct subsidized loans, direct unsubsidized loans and all Stafford loans, according to the Department of Education.

Borrowers who consolidate their loans forfeit their remaining grace period, and students who go back to school before the end of their grace period and enroll at least half-time will receive their six-month grace period when they stop attending or drop below half-time status. Borrowers who are called to active duty in the military for more than 30 days before the end of their grace period receive the full six-month grace period when they return from duty.

"Some private lenders offer grace periods as well," Abril Hunt, a training and outreach manager at ECMC, a student loan guarantor and financial literacy nonprofit, wrote in an email. "The length of the grace period will vary by lender and loan product, but it's usually about six months. Be sure to check your loan agreement to see what (if any) grace period you have."

If they are able, borrowers can make payments on their student loans while still in the grace period. Experts advise doing so, given that interest will accrue during the grace period for most federal student loans.

Know How Much Is Owed
If a borrower's loans have been building, a crucial first step is to know how much is owed. On the National Student Loan Data System, the Department of Education's database, students can locate all their federal loans and find debt totals, including accumulated interest.

"Before I looked online, I wasn't even sure how much my loans were, including interest," says Meghan Mitnick, a teacher in New York City who had six-figure loan debt from two New York University degrees. "Even though it's really scary, know exactly what you're dealing with."

Contact the Student Loan Servicer
Once borrowers have a good grasp of just how much is owed, they should then find out exactly who must be paid by contacting the correct student loan servicer.

"That's the question we get often: Who am I supposed to be paying?" George says.

Whether a student took out federal or private loans, the loan servicer is the first point of contact for any questions and address updates, so don't hesitate to reach out, recommends Erin Wolfe, associate director of financial aid at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania.

"The best advice for any graduate is to remain proactive in loan repayment," Wolfe wrote in an email. "If you have questions or concerns, contact the loan servicer without delay. Building a successful repayment strategy for student loan debt is essential for shaping the borrower's financial future."

Pick a Repayment Plan
The standard repayment plan for federal student loans is 10 years, but that doesn't necessarily make it the right option for every student.

For example, some borrowers of federal student loans may be better off opting into income-based repayment or income-contingent repayment plans, which adjust monthly bills according to pay.

Hunt says the most important thing to remember about repayment plans is that they can be changed.

"Borrowers are not stuck in the same repayment plan forever," Hunt wrote. "If they choose the wrong plan for their situation or have a sudden lifestyle change, they should contact their servicer to discuss options for delayed payment or how to change their repayment plan."

Stick to a Budget
Once borrowers determine a monthly obligation, they should keep track of other spending and bills. Budgeting websites like Mint.com have helped University of Pittsburgh graduate Shawn Norcross, a sales representative at Trex Co. who is in the process of repaying about $83,000 worth of student loans, he says.

"Budgeting is amazing, because whenever you can actually see it on a website or on your phone, you don't want to go over; you don't want to cheat," says Norcross, who compares financial tracking to counting calories. "It almost turns into a game of sorts where you want to win."

Prioritize Loan Payments
As students budget, they may find themselves forgoing activities or events to pay off their debt. For Norcross, his payments have taken precedence over major decisions as he plans to avoid default, he says.

"My student loans are affecting my life," Norcross says. He says he wanted to move to Washington, D.C., after college, but couldn't because of his financial situation. "My student loan payments are probably No. 1."

Prioritizing may also mean minimizing other forms of debt or, if possible, chipping away at student loans before tackling other types of debt.

"Student loans are one of the few debt obligations that are rarely forgiven in bankruptcy filings," notes Michael Scott, associate provost for enrollment management at Texas Christian University. "In a worst-case scenario, you will be better off if you've reduced non-dischargeable debt first."

Focus on the Future
Borrowers who are scrimping or sacrificing to make their monthly student loan payments may find it helpful to remind themselves what they're paying for.

"I really value the education I got, and I got a good job, so it paid off," Mitnick says.

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Confused about student loan repayment? ECMC has answers.

October 21, 2019

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November marks the end of the six-month grace period before student loan repayment begins for many students who graduated in May. With a majority taking on debt to finance their education, it is important they understand the repayment process to help ensure they don't negatively impact their financial future. Knowing the facts about repayment can make a big difference to your pocketbook and your financial wellbeing, so ECMC compiled some of the most common student loan repayment plans and the type of borrower who should consider each. See the infographic here.

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How to waive college application fees

The following article is from Parentology

October 10, 2019

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College is expensive. One of the first barriers to entry students face is the application fee. A recent study found more than 50 colleges charge application fees as high as $75 or more. CNBC estimates the most common amount colleges charge for application fees is $50, while the average cost is around $43. So the first way to save money on one's college journey — learning how to have application fees waived.

Get Started Early
Thomas J. Jaworski, an independent college counselor at Quest College Consulting, points to the easiest way to avoid application fees — apply to schools that don't require them. Some school require applying early, or by a specific date, to receive this perk.

Refuse Assistance
Abril Hunt, a national training manager at Educational Credit Management Corporation, tells Parentology, "Many schools offer application fee waivers for student[s] with zero expected family contribution."

Her other tip, should you not be alerted to this right away, "They [schools] don't usually offer it [upfront]. You have to ask."

Claim Financial Hardship
Jocelyn Paonita Pearson is a college funding expert and the founder of The Scholarship System. She recommends students who've qualified for free or reduced lunch in high school request a waiver from universities.

"Typically, students can go through their own guidance counselor or advisor to ask for the waiver. … They should reach out to the university [if] the counselor is uncertain or unaware," she tells Parentology.

Pearson adds that students living in federally subsidized housing, or whose families participate in income-based government programs, may also qualify.

Leverage Demand
Some students may find colleges vying for their enrollment based on factors like excellent grades or athletics. Jim Anderson, a college and financial aid planner, says these schools may be willing to waive fees. One university that follows this protocol is Louisiana Tech.

Visit the Campus
Sometimes the best way to ask application fees be waived is in person. If possible, students should plan a trip to their university of choice. Some high schools may organize these trips, so check event boards at school.

Jaworski says, "Some schools will waive the application fee if you apply on-site, such as after a college visit, or [if] you visited the college at some point, they may waive the fee on their school-specific application."

The Bottom Line
By examining their specific situations, students may find several factors that help them qualify for waived fees.

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ECMC Group names Dan Fisher president of ECMC

October 8, 2019

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ECMC Group has announced that Dan Fisher will become president of Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECMC) on July 1, 2020. The role is currently held by Jan Hines, who is retiring after more than 25 years with the organization.

"We are grateful to Jan for her exceptional leadership and guidance, which has been instrumental in advancing our organization over the last quarter century," said Jeremy Wheaton, president and CEO of ECMC Group. "Looking forward, Dan brings a wealth of expertise in the space as well as institutional knowledge that will prove invaluable as we work to further establish ECMC as a postsecondary education leader."

Fisher, who has been with the organization for 19 years, currently serves as general counsel for ECMC Group—a role he has held for nine years. He also serves as corporate secretary and will maintain those positions in addition to serving as ECMC president.

"Jan's tireless efforts to help students have been hallmarks of her tenure," Fisher said. "I look forward to carrying on her legacy of providing stellar products and services to our many borrowers, partners and clients while helping students succeed."

Hines will direct guarantor operations over the next nine months and provide post-transition consulting and support after July 1.

ECMC Group is the parent company of ECMC, a student loan guaranty agency that provides support for the administration of the Federal Family Education Loan Program. The nonprofit is the designated guarantor for seven states and the third-party guarantor servicer for six clients. ECMC also provides financial literacy programs and oversees student loan repayments.

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The College Place–Alexandria welcomes new director

College access center provides free resources to help VA students plan for college

September 10, 2019

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Alexandria, Va—Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECMC) has announced Tomika Brown as the new director of The College Place (TCP) Alexandria. Brown will oversee the college access center serving Northern Virginia.

TCP-Alexandria provides free in-person, telephone and online support to students of all ages looking for assistance with college applications and financial aid forms, as well as locating scholarships. Staff are also available to visit schools and conduct workshops. A second Virginia TCP location in Richmond provides services in Richmond and other areas of the commonwealth. ECMC, a nonprofit focused on helping students succeed, has staffed brick and mortar college access centers in Virginia since 2003.

"We are delighted to have someone with Tomika's vast experience join our efforts to help Virginia students navigate the college-going process," said Paula Craw, ECMC vice president of student success and outreach. "We have a long history of college access work in the commonwealth, and Tomika's expertise will enable us to positively impact even more students and families throughout the area."

TCP-Alexandria is located at the Virginia Career Works Cherokee Avenue Center, 5520 Cherokee Avenue #100, Alexandria, VA, 22312. To set up an appointment or to schedule a presentation, call 434-242-9053 or email alexandriavatcp@ecmc.org.

TCP-Richmond is located on the Virginia Commonwealth University campus. ECMC operates seven college access centers throughout the country. Other locations include Colorado, Connecticut, Minnesota, Northern California and Oregon.

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ECMC appoints Chad Tate senior vice president of operations

September 4, 2019

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Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECMC) has announced the appointment of Chad Tate as senior vice president of operations. In this role, he will oversee all operations of ECMC's student loan programs on behalf of the United States Department of Education. He will also provide strategic direction and oversee departments including Claims, Bankruptcy, Default Prevention, Customer Service, Internal Collections and External Collection Agency Oversight.

"With Chad's history of success in managing operations for a complex business, we believe he will become an immediate contributor to our team and will help determine the future of ECMC's legacy business," said Jan Hines, president and CEO of ECMC. "We look forward to his input as we diversify and enhance our service offerings."

With more than 15 years of experience managing operations and finance, Tate brings insight into key parts of ECMC's business including collections and bankruptcy, claims, operational efficiency and client/customer service.

"ECMC does impactful work focused on helping students and borrowers succeed beyond its role as a student loan guarantor," said Tate. "I hope to exemplify what it means to help students succeed as the organization looks to embrace forthcoming opportunities."

Prior to joining ECMC, Tate held various positions at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, starting as a collections manager and moving up to vice president of claims operations. He holds a bachelor's degree in sociology from North Central University and an MBA with an emphasis in finance from Hamline University.

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ECMC awards $450,000 in college scholarships to 75 students in Virginia

August 27, 2019

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Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECMC) is proud to recognize 75 high school graduates from the class of 2019 who completed the ECMC Scholars Program. The students come from eight high schools in Virginia and earned $6,000 each in scholarships.

For the past two years, these students have participated in a rigorous, two-year mentoring program designed to help them build academic and life skills. Unlike a traditional academic scholarship, these students were selected to participate in the program based on their potential—not solely on their academic merit or test scores. Working in partnership with their school and the ECMC Scholars team, they spent their junior and senior years actively preparing for college.

"The road to postsecondary education can be a real struggle for families, both financially and as they navigate through the college-going process," said Paula Craw, ECMC vice president of student success and outreach. "ECMC created the ECMC Scholars Program with this in mind. With the right knowledge, tools and support, ECMC can help make the dream of postsecondary education a reality for students who may not otherwise attend due to these barriers."

The scholarship funds can be used for enrollment in a degree or certificate program at an accredited college, university, or career and technical education institution. Students who earned the scholarships are planning to attend a variety of colleges in the fall, including Blue Ridge Community College, Virginia Commonwealth University, Virginia Tech and Virginia Western Community College.

"This is truly an amazing group of students," said Sabrina Berg, ECMC Scholars Program manager. "They have worked so hard over the past two years to prepare themselves for higher education. I am proud of all they have accomplished, and I am excited to see them succeed in postsecondary education and in life."

Since 2005, ECMC has awarded $8.5 million to 1,411 ECMC Scholars students in Virginia alone. Over the past 13 years, ECMC has awarded $17.7 million in scholarships to 2,953 students in Virginia, Oregon and Connecticut. ECMC has committed to supporting an additional 387 students through the class of 2021 with the potential to award up to $2.3 million overall.

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ECMC awards $504,000 in college scholarships to 84 students in Oregon

August 27, 2019

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Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECMC) is proud to recognize the 84 high school graduates from the class of 2019 who completed the ECMC Scholars Program. The students come from eight high schools in Oregon and earned $6,000 each in scholarships.

For the past two years, these students have participated in a rigorous, two-year mentoring program designed to help them build academic and life skills. Unlike a traditional academic scholarship, these students were selected to participate in the program based on their potential—not solely on their academic merit or test scores. Working in partnership with their school and the ECMC Scholars team, they spent their junior and senior years actively preparing for college.

"The road to postsecondary education can be a real struggle for families, both financially and as they navigate through the college-going process," said Paula Craw, ECMC vice president of student success and outreach. "ECMC created the ECMC Scholars Program with this in mind. With the right knowledge, tools and support, ECMC can help make the dream of postsecondary education a reality for students who may not otherwise attend due to these barriers."

The scholarship funds can be used for enrollment in a degree or certificate program at an accredited college, university, or career and technical education institution. Students who earned the scholarships are planning to attend a variety of colleges in the fall, including Blue Mountain Community College, Chemeketa Community College, Oregon State University and Portland State University.

"This is truly an amazing group of students," said Sabrina Berg, ECMC Scholars Program manager. "They have worked so hard over the past two years to prepare themselves for higher education. I am proud of all they have accomplished, and I am excited to see them succeed in postsecondary education and in life."

Since 2008, ECMC has awarded $5.5 million to 921 ECMC Scholars students in Oregon alone. Over the past 13 years, ECMC has awarded $17.7 million in scholarships to 2,953 students in Virginia, Oregon and Connecticut. ECMC has committed to supporting an additional 387 students through the class of 2021 with the potential to award up to $2.3 million.

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ECMC awards $444,000 in college scholarships to 74 students in Connecticut

August 27, 2019

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Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECMC) is proud to recognize 74 high school graduates from the class of 2019 who completed the ECMC Scholars Program. The students come from eight schools in Connecticut and earned $6,000 each in scholarships.

For the past two years, these students have participated in a rigorous, two-year mentoring program designed to help them build academic and life skills. Unlike a traditional academic scholarship, these students were selected to participate in the program based on their potential—not solely on their academic merit or test scores. Working in partnership with their school and the ECMC Scholars team, they spent their junior and senior years actively preparing for college.

"The road to postsecondary education can be a real struggle for families, both financially and as they navigate through the college-going process," said Paula Craw, ECMC vice president of student success and outreach. "ECMC created the ECMC Scholars Program with this in mind. With the right knowledge, tools and support, ECMC can help make the dream of postsecondary education a reality for students who may not otherwise attend due to these barriers."

The scholarship funds can be used for enrollment in a degree or certificate program at an accredited college, university, or career and technical education institution. Students who earned the scholarships are planning to attend a variety of colleges in the fall, including Albertus Magnus College, Manchester Community College, Naugatuck Valley Community College, University of Connecticut and University of Hartford.

"This is truly an amazing group of students," said Sabrina Berg, ECMC Scholars Program manager. "They have worked so hard over the past two years to prepare themselves for higher education. I am proud of all they have accomplished, and I am excited to see them succeed in postsecondary education and in life."

Since 2012, ECMC has awarded $3.7 million to 621 ECMC Scholars students in Connecticut alone. Over the past 13 years, ECMC has awarded $17.7 million in scholarships to 2,953 students in Virginia, Oregon and Connecticut. ECMC has committed to supporting an additional 387 students through the class of 2021 with the potential to award up to $2.3 million.

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Minneapolis attorney honored at ACA International's annual national awards ceremony

The following article is from Inside ARM

July 23, 2019

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In recognizing the outstanding organizations and individuals who have demonstrated excellence in the accounts receivable management industry, ACA International awarded Wendy Badger, vice president, corporate compliance and chief compliance officer with ECMC Group in Minneapolis, with the James K. Erickson Continuous Service Award. The award was presented during ACA International's 2019 Convention & Expo in San Diego.

The James K. Erickson Continuous Service Award is presented to a distinguished ACA member who has made significant contributions to the association in each of the last 10 consecutive years.

"As a world-class trade association representing the accounts receivable management industry, ACA international relies heavily on the volunteer spirit and dedication of members like Wendy Badger," ACA International CEO Mark Neeb said. "Our annual awards celebration is aimed at recognizing association members who have embraced our mission to educate, advocate and promote the accounts receivable management industry as a necessary part of a healthy economy. Wendy embodies all of these qualities and represents the best of the industry."

Badger is a nationally acclaimed authority on the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the Gramm-Leach Bliley Act and their implementing regulations. She has been recognized with numerous honors and awards, such as the Members' Attorney Program Designation, twice listed in the "Most Influential Collection Professionals" by Collection Advisor magazine and received the ACA International Charles F. Lindemann Certified Instructor of the Year award. Badger is a Certified Compliance and Ethics Professional (CCEP). She is a regular presenter at industry events, has conducted continuing education seminars, and published numerous articles.

"I am honored to accept the James K. Erickson Continuous Service Award. It is humbling to be nominated and recognized by my industry peers; I am grateful for and indebted to all those who have helped and guided me throughout my career," Badger said.

Badger's peers frequently praise her passion for mentoring others and helping them enhance their compliance programs. In addition, she has helped craft talking points and draft language for ACA members to present to their state and federal representatives on issues of industry-wide significance.

She earned her BA (magna cum laude) in political science from the University of St. Thomas and a Juris Doctorate (cum laude) from Mitchell Hamline School of Law.

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Early college preparation starts freshman year of high school

July 9, 2019

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This fall, my oldest child starts high school, a critical coming-of-age experience most noteworthy because this is the last time she will start a new school that's within ten minutes of our house. The next school she attends will be college, which is both exciting and seriously stressful.

In just a couple of years, my daughter will spend agonizing hours preparing for SATS, writing essays, and filling out college applications. Just thinking about it makes my mom brain go into panic mode.

Will she have the right activities and accolades to put on those applications?

What does she need to do in high school to be competitive?

Am I worrying for no reason?

Is freshman year too early to start prepping for college applications?

I don't have the answers, so I decided to ask those who do. According to the experts, it is important to start thinking about preparing for college applications as early as possible.

Take Some Time to Figure Out the Right Path

Freshman year of high school is a good time to start thinking broadly about a student's goals and next steps, says Danny Eckstein, director of The College Place in Alexandria, Virginia.

"The right fit might be a prestigious four-year college or university," Eckstein says. "But it could also very well be obtaining a certificate at a career or technical school to efficiently develop your industry-related knowledge and skills in order to jump right into your dream career."

Freshmen benefit from taking time to explore their options as soon as possible. College prep in high school starts now.

Take the Right Courses for your Goals

Starting even before freshman year of high school, it is helpful for students to meet with their guidance counselors to discuss the appropriate courses to take.

"Colleges prefer that students have gone above and beyond the minimum graduation requirements of their high school in most subject areas," explains Alyssa Polakowski, School Counseling Manager for Laurel Springs School. "Some also require that students meet particular subject area requirements or standards set forth by their admissions department, which can also vary by specific major areas of study, such as engineering." Researching those college-specific requirements early on can help students ensure their competitive edge.

College admissions counselors like to see that students have challenged themselves and can succeed with college-level coursework. While high schools might only require three years of math, science, and foreign language for graduation, many colleges like to see four years in each of those subjects. The most competitive schools also want to see that students have excelled in the most rigorous courses offered by their particular high school, including AP courses. Students should meet with guidance counselors to discuss their goals and determine the best courses to take.

Ian Curtis, independent college consultant and co-founder of H&C Education, encourages students to figure out the subjects they most enjoy and dig deep in those areas. "Use a part of your summer vacations in high school to enroll in academic programs that will help you build your knowledge and experience in a given subject," he says.

Find and Follow your Passions

When I attended high school, the conventional wisdom was that students needed to appear as well-rounded as possible. According to several college preparation experts, that idea has changed.

Shaan Patel, founder and CEO of Prep Expert, recommends focusing on clubs and activities a student can envision participating in throughout high school. "It's better to concentrate energy on two to three specific things and gain both experience and leadership skills in them, rather than jump from club to club," Patel says. "During your freshman year, choose quality and commitment versus sheer quantity."

Curtis agrees. "The idea is not to show you're well-rounded," he says. Instead, students should focus on long-term commitment to their interests. Some parents might be relieved to hear that those interests could range from community service and entrepreneurship to sports or even video games.

Keep Track of your Activities and Experiences

What's the point of becoming involved in all those great activities if you can't remember what you've done? Phyllis Zimbler Miller, mother of two and author of How to Succeed in High School and Prep for College, urges high school students to keep track of after school activities and volunteer hours beginning freshman year. This will ensure those countless hours aren't forgotten when it's time to begin filling out college applications.

In a similar vein, Yelena Shuster, an admissions essay editor, recommends journaling to incoming high school freshmen. Not only does journaling helps students remember what they have done when it's time to apply for schools, it also makes it easier to write that college application essay.

"By senior year, most high school students do not have experience or practice with creative writing, let alone writing about themselves," she says. "Having four years of practice and journal entries will ensure they're set up for success writing the personal essay."

Be Careful About your Online Presence

We have all seen the stories of students who have lost out on opportunities for college acceptance because of inappropriate social media behavior. It's advice worth repeating, and heeding.

"Never put anything online that could be detrimental to your college applications, no matter how secure you think the site is," says Phyllis Zimbler Miller of CollegePrep.

Remind your teen that anything shared on social media will be accessible to college admissions staff and could affect their acceptance.

Don't Forget to Enjoy Yourself

Although the college preparation process seems overwhelming, high school should also be a time for fun. Eckstein encourages students to relax and spend those four years thinking about who they are and what they want.

"As you get to know yourself better over these next four years," he tells students, "you'll also better understand what you want out of your college experience and beyond."

As I help my daughter prepare for her freshman year of high school, I will remind her to make the most of these years. I know if she spends the next four years discovering her passion, she'll end up exactly where she should be.

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3 steps college grads can take toward financial independence

The following article is CNBC

June 25, 2019

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Goodbye study sessions, dorm food and lecture halls. Real life awaits.

For Jessica Granofsky, 23, however, that means moving back home.

Granofsky graduated from college last year and now works full time as a communications coordinator in the Toronto office of a San Francisco-based start-up. Although she says she earns a good salary and even makes more than many of her friends, she also owes $40,000 Canadian (about US$30,300) in student debt.

"It influences every decision I make," she said.

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Those armed with a newly minted college diploma will enter a U.S. job market with unemployment near the lowest level in 50 years and job prospects up significantly from just last year.

Starting salaries are also higher. In 2018, college grads earned an overall average of $51,022, according to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

And yet, 7 in 10 college seniors graduate with debt, owing around $30,000 per borrower, according to data from the Institute for College Access & Success. Overall student debt stands at more than $1.5 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve. Americans are now more burdened by college loans than they are by credit card or auto debt.

A whopping 87 percent of millennials say they have been broke in the past or are currently broke, according to a survey by CreditLoan.

Those hefty student loan bills from school, which are at an all-time high, have put a severe strain on most recent graduates' financial circumstances. A whopping 87% of millennials said they'd been broke in the past or were currently broke, according to a separate survey by CreditLoan.

Abril Hunt, outreach manager at Educational Credit Management Corp., or ECMC, a nonprofit dedicated to helping student borrowers, offers the following tips on the road to financial independence for those just starting out and facing student loan payments, in addition to other expenses:

1. Build a budget

For starters, don't "put the cart before the horse," Hunt said. "Your income determines your lifestyle, so figure out all your expenses and expected take-home pay," she added, if you have a job after graduation.

"Look at how much money you'll make and adjust your lifestyle accordingly," she said.

For example, if you're earning $32,000 a year, that leaves $2,238 in take-home pay each month after taxes, according to Hunt's hypothetical. A good rule of thumb is to spend no more than 30% of income on housing, Hunt said. She also advises saving for retirement as well as building an emergency fund.

"If you don't think about retirement, you'll be scrambling later on," Hunt said. From there, you can determine how much you can afford in rent or how often you can eat out. See her budget breakdown for that $2,238 a month below:

  • $223.80, or 10%, to student loan payments. (10% of your income is the standard repayment amount income-based repayment plans.)
  • $335.70, or 15%, to groceries
  • $223.80, or 10%, to retirement savings
  • $223.80, or 10%, to transportation, including gas, car payments and insurance
  • $223.80, or 10%, to an emergency fund
  • $671.40, or 30%, to housing
  • $335.70, or 15%, on discretionary spending, such as clothes, eating out, gym memberships and travel

2. Find a job

"Be practical," Hunt said. You'll want a revenue stream coming in even while you are hunting for the perfect position, so take something short term to pay the bills while you are looking for your dream job, she said.

To that end, regardless of your age or lack of experience, when it comes to landing a sought-after gig in today's market, networking is still your best bet, experts say.

In the meantime, take steps to cut costs, such as canceling a gym membership you don't use, scaling back food and clothing purchases to the bare necessities and opting for free entertainment until your income picks up.

3. Start paying back your student loans

The good news for graduates is that, for federal loans, which make up the bulk of student debt, there is generally a six-month grace period after graduation that gives borrowers time to get on their feet before they have to start repaying their college debt.

However, even though payment is not required during the grace period, interest continues to accrue, so consider starting your payments as soon as you can, Hunt said.

By default, you are likely in a 10-year standard repayment plan but there are other options, including pay-as-you-earn or income-based repayment.

"Be aware of the many repayment options, and understand you can switch between plans if necessary," Hunt said.

If your budget feels stretched too thin, look into those income-based repayment programs, which allow you to pay a percentage of your income rather than a flat rate, as long as you are under a certain income threshold.

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Minnesota can lead the way in bridging the skills gap

The following article is from the Star Tribune

May 28, 2019

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Minnesotans have much to be proud of, including the third-highest labor-force participation rate in the country and an unemployment rate below the national average for 10 years running.

Even so, a shortage of skilled workers is impeding Minnesota's economic growth. By 2024, projections show a gap of 400,000 workers needed to fill middle-skill jobs — those requiring education beyond high school but not a four-year degree.

My organization, ECMC Group, recently hosted several experts to discuss the biggest issues facing the education, training and workforce industries as part of the annual MN Cup competition. Panelists emphasized that the rising cost of traditional four-year college is an opportunity to spur changes to our outdated workforce training model.

Every year, high school students say the same thing: They are enrolling in college — particularly four-year institutions — to find a job. Yet only 27% of four-year degree holders are working in a job directly related to their college major, with many underemployed.

And students are getting left behind financially while businesses aren't finding the supply of trained workers they need. Aanand Radia, managing director of University Ventures, summarized this concisely, "Clearly, the way higher education is set up today and how it's traditionally been set up is not going to answer the needs of what employers want and to shrink the skills gap."

It's long past time to expand our horizons. Many don't realize that middle-skill credentials, like an associate degree or training program certificate, can lead to an equally well-paying job and long-term career growth as a four-year degree but at a significantly lower cost.

Instead, Americans still see traditional four-year higher education as the only pathway to the middle class. Panelist Mitch DeJong, chief technology officer of Brooklyn Park manufacturer Design Ready Controls, called it the "dirty hands stigma" where middle-skills jobs are considered less-desirable or for the less-intelligent. In reality, these "new collar" jobs also typically require strong backgrounds in mathematics, critical thinking and collaboration.

Kim Taylor, CEO of job-matching software provider Cluster, similarly lamented the stereotype that "if you don't go to college, you have somehow lost the opportunity to be successful." She rightly emphasized how elitist that notion can be, "knowing that two-thirds of Americans don't have a college degree."

Instead of leaning on four-year institutions as the only option for workforce preparation, policymakers, businesses and higher-education leaders should champion alternatives including career and technical education programs and "learn and earn" models to equip students with the skills needed for the 21st-century workforce.

Thanks to collaboration between local employers and the Department of Labor, apprenticeships in Minnesota have grown nearly 30% over the last five years. But we cannot close the middle-skills gap without first diversifying the middle-skills workforce. White men often dominate high-wage apprenticeships, in fields like construction, while workers of color and women are overrepresented in lower-wage programs.

Last month, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., reintroduced bipartisan legislation with Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, to increase funding for tuition-assistance programs for participants in pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs. Speaking about her bill, Sen. Klobuchar rightly emphasized, "Today, there isn't just one path to success — there are many ways to access the skills and education necessary to get a high-paying and rewarding job."

During our discussion, DeJong and fellow local employer Louis King, president and CEO of Minneapolis' Summit Academy OIC, spoke candidly about how they've diversified their recruitment and training efforts. When underserved populations can't get the quality, affordable education and training they need, Minnesota employers face more severe skills gaps. As King said, while we search for skills-gap solutions, there is already "a workforce hiding in plain sight."

Our workforce needs are changing, and it is time for our attitudes about what will put students on the best pathway to success to change as well.

If local policymakers, employers and educators can work together to train more people in more effective ways, shaping them into lifelong learners and valued employees, the country will owe Minnesota a debt of gratitude — and that is a far better debt to carry.

Jeremy J. Wheaton is the president and chief executive of Minneapolis-based ECMC Group, where he creates and executes strategic initiatives for ECMC Group and its affiliates, and the president and CEO for Zenith Education Group, a nonprofit provider of career school training.

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Thousands of Latino students expected at leadership conference

The following article is from WoodburnIndependent

April 30, 2019

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The Lynchburg Public Library will host a workshop to help prospective college students in their preparations for college.

"Beyond the SAT," with Danny Eckstein will go over tips and tricks to get accepted and pay for college.

The workshop will help prospective students find and apply for federal financial aid and discuss ways to help pay for school.

Eckstein, director of the Educational Credit Management Corporation, will provide free resources and helpful information to navigate the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) process as well as tips on college resume building and work study options.

The workshop will take place in the Community Meeting Room and is free and open to the public.

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How to write a financial aid appeal letter

The following article is from U.S. News and World Report

April 10, 2019

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Successful Financial aid appeals are rare, experts say. But crafting a good financial aid appeal letter can give students the best chance of getting more money for college.

After receiving an award letter, students may be able to appeal the financial aid package they were given by a specific college. Not all students find themselves in a circumstance that merits writing an appeal letter to request more financial aid, and in some situations appealing could even lower the amount of aid they receive.

But Mark Kantrowitz, publisher and vice president of research for Savingforcollege.com, says more awareness is needed about appeals.

"Too often families think of the financial aid award letter as being set in stone and not subject to appeal," he says. "The first sign there might be an issue is if the financial aid offer is not merely a harsh assessment of your ability to pay, but an impossible assessment. Chances are there is some bit of information the financial aid office was unaware of when they calculated your financial aid package."

In those cases, families should consider appealing the financial aid offer, he says, noting that an appeal letter should be written by a parent if the student is considered a dependent.

Read: Why Your College Financial Aid Letter May Be Misleading.

Whatever the circumstance, students and their parents typically must demonstrate to financial aid administrators a significant change in their ability to pay for college by providing proof or new information. For families who determine an appeal is the best route, here are tips on how to write a successful financial aid appeal letter:

  • Start by calling the financial aid office.
  • Include specific examples.
  • Gather documentation.
  • Be respectful and honest, and keep it short.
  • Submit the financial aid appeal letter the right way.

Start by Calling the Financial Aid Office

The appeal process can vary across colleges. Some require students to fill out a form in addition to writing an appeal letter, while others don't require a letter at all. For this reason, experts recommend students call the target school's financial aid office before taking any steps toward an appeal.

But students and families should plan to do more than just make a phone call, experts say. A physical letter can be powerful.

"There's a formal process if the student is asking to have their eligibility for aid re-evaluated, because you have to have a reason to be re-evaluated," says Abril Hunt, manager of outreach and financial literacy for Educational Credit Management Corp., a nonprofit based in Minneapolis that aims to promote financial literacy and student success in higher education.

Include Specific Examples

No two financial aid circumstances are the same. Even in situations when two families have a similar event occur that inhibits their ability to pay for college, Kantrowitz says they shouldn't expect the same outcome from an appeal. Colleges and financial aid administrators have significant flexibility in deciding how to respond to appeals.

"Schools are able to practice what is called professional judgment," says Megan Coval, vice president of policy and federal relations at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.

"This is a process that we think works pretty well right now, and we like the flexibility schools have. If you made it a little more standardized or rigid, you'd run the risk of it being too one size fits all, and there are so, so many different scenarios in which students might appeal or ask for professional judgment to be done. So we think that's in the hands of the financial aid office and the student," she says.

The way families present their financial circumstances can affect the result of an appeal. Experts say parents should list specific circumstances that have an impact on their ability to pay for college in their appeal letters, possibly in a bulleted list. Using a clear bulleted list can help quickly convey the facts of a family's situation in a way that is digestible for financial aid administrators and easy to connect to supporting documentation.

Some of the most common situations that may warrant an appeal are if a parent dies or loses his or her job; if parents get a divorce; if child support has ended; in cases of significant natural disasters that result in losses for the family; in the case of significant medical or dental expenses; if the student has a special needs family member or cares for a special needs child; or if the estimate for commuting and other educational costs is significantly lower than the actual costs, Kantrowitz says.

Families should also explain how the specific circumstance has affected their ability to pay.

The contents of the letter should be different depending on whether the family is hoping to get more need-based or more merit-based aid. If the aid is based on merit, it might be helpful to include more information about a student's GPA and accomplishments, but if it is strictly need-based, experts say that information is unnecessary.

See: 12 Colleges That Give Merit Aid to the Most Students.

Gather Documentation

Providing proof of the specific circumstances listed in the appeal is critical, experts say. If the appeal letter doesn't include any documentation, students and families can expect to get a response from the financial aid office asking for it.

The best kind of documentation families can provide is a document from a third-party source, Kantrowitz says. An example of a good document to include might be a paid medical bill or pay stubs and W-2s showing a decrease in income.

Letters from other sources can also be included, but those from family members may not carry the same weight as one from an outside source with knowledge of the family's financial situation, such as an insurance agent or health professional who can speak to the family's situation.

"It's not just narrative," Hunt says. "You need something in writing to back it up. They won't take your word for it; they need to have some proof of the situation changing or the information being inaccurately reported."

Hunt says if other colleges have offered more generous packages, copies of those offers can be included with the appeal letter.

Read: How to Get the Most Generous Financial Aid Package From Your College.

Be Respectful and Honest, and Keep it Short

An appeal letter should include other information beyond specific examples of financial changes or hardships. A parent should thank the financial aid office for its consideration, and write briefly about the student's excitement to attend the institution.

Experts say families should never lie about their financial need or treat the process like a negotiation.

While the financial aid appeal letter should include specific details, Kantorwitz warns: "Don't tell them your entire life story."

For an appeal of need-based financial aid, writing a long narrative or including too many details are unlikely to help a student's chances. The most important elements of the letter, experts say, are often the examples and corresponding proof.

"Processors really don't have the time to read long letters like that, so I would say be succinct and to the point." Hunt says. "Stick to the facts."

In his book "How to Appeal for More College Financial Aid," Kantrowitz provides examples of good and bad financial aid appeal letters. Here's an example of what he says a good appeal letter written by a parent might look like:

"Dear Director of Financial Aid,

I am very excited that my daughter, [name of daughter], has been accepted by such a prestigious university. I am proud of her accomplishments.

Unfortunately, there are some unusual aspects of our family's finances that make it difficult for my daughter to afford to enroll, despite your generous financial aid offer.

* I am a single parent, raising three daughters on my own. My husband died last year, after a long battle with cancer.

* Our family income has decreased significantly in the last two years. Besides the loss of my husband's income, I was laid off by my employer and had to accept a job at a much lower salary after six months on unemployment. Also, my income two years ago included a big one-time bonus that obviously will not be repeated.

* I am still making payments on a significant amount of medical debt. The insurance company did not cover all of the costs of my husband's cancer treatment because it included therapies that were classified as experimental by the insurance company. The COBRA payments after my husband lost his job because of the cancer were and remain very high. We also liquidated our small retirement plans to cover the deductibles and co-pays.

* My daughter's Social Security survivor's benefits end next year when she turns 18.

* My daughter's younger siblings are enrolled at a private high school. Although the school has helped with a scholarship after my husband's death, it doesn't cover full tuition. I thought about sending them to public school because the expense is no longer affordable, but I don't have the heart to do that to them after they lost their father. I don't want them to lose their friends. Plus, our reasons for sending them to a private school are still valid.

I have enclosed copies of documentation of these circumstances, a copy of my pay stubs before and after the job change, a copy of the unemployment benefits, a copy of my husband's death certificate, copies of our medical bills and a copy of this year's federal income tax return.

Your university is my daughter's first choice. I hope you will provide her with more financial aid, so she can afford to enroll at your fine institution. I am sure she will thrive there.

Thank you for your time and consideration."

Submit the Financial Aid Appeal Letter the Right Way

Parents should submit the appeal letter as soon as possible, Kantrowitz says. While experts say it is rare for a student to receive financial aid before being admitted to an institution, Kantrowitz says in most cases parents should submit an appeal letter early, even if financial aid administrators won't respond to it until the student is admitted.

The letter should be mailed, ideally through certified mail that includes delivery confirmation, to the financial aid office in most cases, Kantrowitz says. Parents should confirm the correct address with the institution's financial aid office.

However, families who don't have clear changes to their financial situation but feel they could still get more financial aid through an appeal may want to wait to send the letter, Hunt says.

"They might want to wait until the first round of award letters, after mid-June," Hunt says. "Then the school will have a better idea of what the enrollment numbers will be. And if the school is behind in their enrollment numbers they might be more likely to find an extra couple thousand dollars for the student in order to get their enrollment numbers up."

Trying to fund your education? Get tips and more in the U.S. News Paying for College center.

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Mayor Frey proclaims April 1 "ECMC Group Day" in Minneapolis

April 1, 2019

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Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey signed a proclamation officially recognizing April 1, 2019, as "ECMC Group Day." The proclamation reads:

Mpls Proclamation

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ECMC offers financial tips for adult learners during Financial Capability Month

April 1, 2019

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The nontraditional student is the new normal, with adult learners making up nearly 40 percent of today's higher education population. Returning to school or enrolling in a postsecondary program is a big decision for adult learners, so ECMC is providing tips to help those considering furthering their education keep their finances top-of-mind during Financial Capability Month and beyond.

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What students can do if parents can't—or won't—fill out college-aid forms

The following article is from the Wall Street Journal

March 4, 2019

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Generally, college students have a better shot at financial aid when their parents participate in the application process. But parents aren't always willing or able to fulfill this need.

Lack of information about parents' financial means, however, can severely limit students' eligibility for aid, sometimes leading young people to give up on the prospect of college itself.

Recent legislative proposals could make it easier for some students with extenuating family circumstances to apply for aid. But for now, here are two ways students may be able to navigate the financial-aid process without their parents' financial information:

Option 1: Seek to be declared independent
Students could see if they qualify as "independent" under the rules set up by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, which is the government form for financial aid.

Qualifying as independent allows the applicant to be eligible for the maximum amount of federal loans and gift-based aid without providing their parents' financial information, says Abril Hunt, an outreach manager who focuses on financial literacy for Educational Credit Management Corp., a nonprofit that helps students and families plan and pay for college.

Students who don't live with their parents and who pay their own bills and educational expenses aren't automatically considered independent. Qualifying criteria include: being at least 24 years old on or before Dec. 31 of the award year; being a minor who is legally emancipated; being an orphan or veteran; or having a dependent other than a spouse.

Option 2: Go through the dependency-override process
Individual schools can issue what is known as a "dependency override," which allows a student's FAFSA application to be considered without the parent's financial information.

Overrides are generally only granted due to such extenuating circumstances as an abusive family, abandonment, or the incarceration, hospitalization or institutionalization of both parents. Schools can take weeks or months to decide. Meanwhile, the applicants don't have financial-aid packages to compare.

To seek an override, the applicant submits just the student portion of the FAFSA, then must contact each target school to explain why the parents' financial information isn't included, says Ivette Chavez, director of financial services for the Making Waves Foundation's College & Alumni Program, which advises students on financial aid.

Generally, applicants will be asked to provide supporting documentation, such as letters from a community-based organization, school counselor or homeless shelter, or police records that document abuse, Ms. Chavez says.

If an override is denied, the applicant can appeal. Ms. Chavez recommends scheduling an in-person meeting with the school's financial-aid administrators. Additional documents supporting individuals' claims may also help, she says. Dependency overrides are granted for one year at a time.

Meanwhile, there are proposals in Congress to help. The FAFSA Fairness Act of 2019, for example, would ease the financial-aid application process for students dealing with situations such as parental abandonment, abuse and neglect. The bill would allow students who meet certain criteria to complete the FAFSA without their parents' information and receive an estimate of their federal financial-aid award for each school where they apply. They would then go through a verification process at the school they plan to attend.

Students wouldn't have to repeat the verification process each year they apply for aid at that school, with limited exceptions.

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Lynchburg public library hosts workshop on college prep

The following article is from ABC Channel 13 News

February 21, 2019

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The Lynchburg Public Library will host a workshop to help prospective college students in their preparations for college.

"Beyond the SAT," with Danny Eckstein will go over tips and tricks to get accepted and pay for college.

The workshop will help prospective students find and apply for federal financial aid and discuss ways to help pay for school.

Eckstein, director of the Educational Credit Management Corporation, will provide free resources and helpful information to navigate the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) process as well as tips on college resume building and work study options.

The workshop will take place in the Community Meeting Room and is free and open to the public.

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ECMC Group Hosts a "Doing Day" at Minneapolis Office

The following videos are from KSTP

February 19, 2019

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More than 50 ECMC Group employees assembled hundreds of care packages for local charities as part of their annual "Doing Day" event.

ECMC Group was featured in the 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. news segments. Both clips can be found here: https://youtu.be/QOQrYPjOcqs

DeeDee Gorman, Senior Community Relations Specialist, was interviewed.

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We are all revolutionaries

The following article is from Forbes

February 4, 2019

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You are a revolutionary. We are all revolucionarios. You just don't know it yet.

No one ever told me this when I was young. When I was young, I was told not to speak my family's native language. I was led to believe that college was not for people like me, and that quiet people like me are better off remaining silent and staying out of the way. I am not here to simply tell you that you are a revolutionary but to help you realize your strengths, examine areas for growth, and to help you develop skills so that you can move forward with your dreams and make a revolutionary change for yourself, your loved ones, and your community.

I see you out there:

I know you have insecurities about your struggles to be bilingual and bicultural. 30% of Milwaukie students are Latino, and I know you've asked the questioned: should I be more "white"? Should I be more "Latino"? What does that mean anyhow? Why can't I just be me? I have that same struggle too—still to this day—but I am learning, too, that we are perfect the way that we are even if our Spanish isn't perfect. That struggle is the reason why we created Ascensión Milwaukie, a Latinx/Chicanx leadership group dedicated to creating and promoting positive academia, cultura, and lifestyle. It's a group that won 3 of 4 categories at the statewide Cesar E. Chavez Leadership Conference in its first year; a group that placed 50 percent of its graduates in 4-year universities and 100 percent in a community college or university, both exceeding our school's averages.

I know that equity and diversity is more than the color of your skin or your biological birth sex. I know that it is the combination—the intersectionality—of these things, and so much more. That's why your story is important, and making time to listen to each other is valuable and needed. Especially now, when it appears that society lacks empathy towards individuals that don't meet the standard definition of caucasian, heterosexual, male or female, and why we have worked so hard to produce school-wide lessons to make diversity, intersectionality, equity, and respect a part of our daily conversations.

I know that your introverted nature makes it a daily struggle to operate in class like a "normal" student. Society tells us that we need to be loud, be confident, be open (exposed), be able to speak in front of an audience, and get straight A's while doing it, if we want to make it in life. I know because I was just like you. I didn't get straight A's. I'm still learning how to embrace my inner introvert and how to be an extrovert when needed. I know that you will make it in life and be even greater because you will have the "bi-cultural" gift, skills, and talents of an ambivert.

I know you are uncertain about your future because you will be a first generation college student. I know because only 20 percent of our graduates go on to a 4-year university and fewer than 60 percent of our graduates will attend any type of college. We know you have the capability, but that you lack the familiarity. That's why it's part of the comprehensive counseling program to do a Myers Briggs inventory with each of you when forecasting and exploring future options. It's why Milwaukie has the largest college and career fair in our district. It's why I coordinate college field trips for AVID and the ECMC Scholars programs and have volunteered to drive the minibus to various campuses. No one ever showed me what the future could be like, but we make certain you have the ability to access this information.

Not only do I see you. I believe in you and work hard with you. When you needed space and time, I shared my office with you. When you needed to fundraise, I worked next to you. When you marched in demonstration, I marched with you. When you needed to dance, bailamos. Because together we are creating the revolution of making our world a better place and bringing pride to our community in the process.

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SD-WAN: Today's networking technology

The following article is from CIOReview

February 1, 2019

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A few decades ago, Sun Microsystems coinedthe phrase "The Network Is the Computer" to define its product strategy. In today's world of complex applications, sophisticated data analytics, pervasive use of multimedia and a widely dispersed workforce,the network is increasingly the lifeblood of any corporation.

Traditionally, most corporations, including my own,have usedMultiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS)-based wide area network (WAN) services to move vast quantities of data. A distinct advantage of MPLS has been its high reliability ensured via service level agreements (SLA) with service providers. Conversely, high bandwidth costs have been its biggest limitation, driving up operating expenses in the data-hungry world in which most companies live. MPLS networks are also notoriously slow to provision or upgrade.Initial setupscan take months and a simple bandwidth upgrade can be a weeks-long process.

Companies have long sought to address these hurdles by selectively migrating services to the public Internet, which is significantly cheaper and quicker to upgrade. However, the Internet still suffers from performance inconsistency, despite rapid improvements over the past decade. The upshot is that many companies have been living in a hybrid world, with mission-critical traffic being sent via MPLS and the rest via cheaper Internet services. This has created additional overhead since the appropriate routing of traffic becomes a manual process handled by network programmers and administrators. The quest to solve this problem of balance between performance and cost is leading many corporations to turn tosoftware-defined (SD)WAN technology.

In basic terms, SD-WAN is a software service that enables enterprises to dynamically route traffic across a hybrid network environment. The technology is rapidly gaining wide adoption. At ECMC Group, we are adopting SD-WAN capabilities as part of ourstrategy to migrateour entire application portfolio to the cloud, including Microsoft Office, custom-built transaction systems, third-party software as a service (SaaS) solutions as well as data warehousing and analytics platforms. In addition, our company relies heavily on virtual communication platforms for voice and video. Collectively, these requirements have underscored the criticality of reliable and cost-effective WAN services with minimal administrative overhead.

We see several key benefits from moving to this technology.

Performance Flexibility: SD-WAN solutions enable a hybrid WAN to react to changing network conditions automatically, a characteristic that provides unprecedented flexibility. Its routing appliances and algorithms evaluate the different transport options and distribute traffic accordingly. For instance, traffic with higher quality of service requirements will be routed via MPLS, while others leverage the Internet, providing higher bandwidth at much lower costs.

Lower Cost: This benefit is a natural offshoot of the above. With SD-WAN, we anticipate being able to rely more on less expensive broadband circuits versus our private links. This offers us the freedom to invest in the higher capacity broadband links and minimize the size of our expensive MPLS circuits. The dynamic routing features of SD-WAN solutions also mean that network capacity can match increases in demand without the need to invest in additional WAN infrastructure.

Security: While the inherent security limitations of the Internet are well understood, SD-WAN solutions compensate for this deficiency by using standards-based encryption to provide connectivity over any type of transport, thus establishing its own secure network.Any new SD‐WAN device has to first beauthenticated to this network and receive its assigned policy before being granted access. Policies can allow sensitive traffic to have its own encryption keys and be isolated from the rest.

Simplified Administration: Manually configuring a hybrid WAN is challenging.Routing protocols typically stay with the single best path between two points and don't react to changing conditions in the network such as packet loss, congestion, etc.Furthermore, any changes in traffic patterns must be accommodated by manually changing configurations. This drives administrative overhead from the IT staff. The SD-WAN model allows the routing logic to be pre-configured, but on an ongoing basis, relies on the software to evaluate and direct network traffic in real-time;thereby,limiting the need for further manual intervention.

It is worth noting that while implementation-ready, SD-WAN is continuing to evolve in its maturity. Coupled with performance improvements on the public Internet, it is possible that companies will completely eliminate dependency on private links in the very near future.

A second point of note is the implication for IT talent. Configuring SD-WANs will require IT staff to be more strategic and less tactical in their approach, much like a city planner, ensuring that the model defined at the outset can fully leverage the autonomous capabilities of the network on an ongoing basis.

SD-WAN is quickly becoming the preferred networking solution within corporations and, therefore, the conduit to efficient and effective systems—an exciting development for organizations and IT professionals as we look to enhance our technology environments now and into the future.

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An innovative (and Milton Friedman-approved) way to combat the college-debt crisis

The following article is from Crain's Chicago Business

The idea isn't new—but it's being tested in Chicago even as it gains traction elsewhere in the nation.

February 1, 2019

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In 2005, Barack and Michelle Obama, in their 40s at the time, announced they were almost done paying back their student loans—nearly 20 years after graduating from college. Some Americans were shocked, but the Obamas' story is common: Both grew up in low-income families and as the cost of college continued to rise, they increasingly relied on loans to finance their education.

Considered the "great equalizer," higher education is the key out of poverty for students from underserved, low-income backgrounds, and is the gateway to family-sustaining jobs. Yet the rising cost of tuition, fees and expenses puts a college education out of reach for students with fewer economic means.

To cover college expenses, many students have turned to loans (both government and private) and are amassing more debt than previous generations.

The average 2017 college graduate owed $39,400, and recently, the total debt owed by students surpassed $1.5 trillion. The impact is most severe on low-income Americans: 12 years after graduation, 91 percent of students from low-income backgrounds still have student loan debt, compared to 59 percent of their wealthier peers.

These challenges have led some critics to question the value of a college education and its return on investment. Given that 65 percent of jobs will require at least some postsecondary education in just two years, the question shouldn't be "Does college matter?" but rather, "How do we make it more accessible, affordable and equitable?"

Some education pioneers are turning to a potential solution—income-share agreements (ISAs)—which are employed in several Latin American countries. While the concept isn't new (it was first introduced more than 50 years ago by Nobel Prize-winning University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman), the application of the model in the United States is. Only a handful of universities, including Purdue University, and coding boot camps are experimenting with them.

With ISAs, students receive financial aid in exchange for a defined share of their post-graduation income. Unlike loans, there is no principal to repay or interest to accrue, and there are thresholds and caps on the student's ISA payments.

ISAs are contingent on income. When students struggle financially, their payment obligation is negligible or nonexistent, and when they thrive, their payment obligation scales with their success.

Better Future Forward is spearheading efforts on ISAs and working to level the playing field for low-income students. In 2017, BFF launched pilot programs in Minnesota and Washington, D.C., and is currently scaling its efforts to the Chicago area with support from ECMC Foundation and two local Chicago foundations.

BFF will collaborate with several Chicago-based college success organizations (Bottom Line, OneGoal, One Million Degrees and College Possible) to serve roughly 60 Chicago students attending four-year universities in Illinois. These organizations will also provide ongoing wraparound support like college mentorship and coaching.

Eventually, BFF plans to grow the program so that every low-income student in Chicago has access to ISAs. And while the philanthropic sector can drive innovation by seeding new interventions, to make a system that works for all students and solve the student loan crisis, we need participation from businesses, policymakers and the public.

It's time to think outside the box. To make college costs more affordable and equitable, we need to test innovative financing solutions.

Peter J. Taylor is the president of ECMC Foundation, a funder of Better Future Forward, and serves on the Board of Trustees of the California State University system.

Kevin James is founder and CEO of Better Future Forward.

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5 Tips for scoring college scholarships

The following article is from Consumer Reports

As spring deadlines approach, here's how to boost your chances of getting awarded money for school

February 1, 2019

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If you're a high school senior or college student hoping to land a scholarship to help fund the cost of school this fall, don't delay your search much longer.

Most scholarships have spring deadlines, so now is the prime time to apply. And don't despair because you think you don't have the grades to qualify. There are thousands of scholarships out there, including many that don't depend on outstanding academic performance or even financial need. You could be awarded money based on your field of study, extracurricular activities, geographic area, or heritage.

"Scholarships are granted based on a wide range of criteria. You just need to know how to find the right one," says Abril Hunt, national trainings manager for ECMC, a nonprofit that provides financial literacy education to students in high school and college, and works to lower student-loan default rates.

In fact, the chances you'll win some type of scholarship are actually pretty decent. According to the 2018 Sallie Mae How America Pays for College survey, 3 in 5 college students received one scholarship or more.

But don't count on getting a full ride. Very few students get a scholarship that covers the entire cost of tuition, fees, room and board, says financial aid expert Mark Kantrowitz, publisher and vice president of research at Savingforcollege.com.

But if you apply and win a variety of scholarships, the awards can add up to a sizable amount. In the 2017-18 academic year, the average total amount awarded among those who had one or more scholarship was $7,760, according to the Sallie Mae survey. Families reported that scholarship funds covered about 20 percent of college costs.

Keep in mind that some schools and private scholarship organizations require you to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to be considered for award money, even if the award is not based on your family's ability to pay for school. So, if you haven't submitted a FAFSA yet, do that too.

Smart Strategies for Finding Scholarships

Here are five ways to maximize your chances of getting a scholarship and making a meaningful dent in your college bills:

Look to your school. Colleges are one of the largest providers of scholarships, says Kathy Ruby, director of college finance for College Coach, an organization that provides admissions consulting services. Eager to get a diverse student body, colleges use "free money" to recruit students based on specific characteristics, such as their GPA, intended major, or where they live.

Generally, private colleges offer more merit scholarships than public universities because they have larger endowments. The average amount awarded per student in scholarships at four-year private colleges was $13,591, more than twice the $5,932 granted by four-year public schools, according to the Sallie Mae survey.

But many state schools, especially in the South and West, offer generous scholarships to out-of-staters with solid academic records. For example, the University of Arkansas' New Arkansan Non-Resident Tuition Award covers a majority of the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition for students from neighboring states who have a GPA of 3.3 or higher.

You can increase your chances of getting a scholarship by applying to schools where your test scores and grades place you in the top 10 percent of the class. Go to the College Board's Big Future website to see how your academic record compares with students accepted at the schools you want to attend.

As you research and visit schools, ask admissions officers whether you are a good candidate for a scholarship and what kind of profile students who get merit aid typically have. "The criteria colleges look for shifts every year," Ruby says.

Find your fit. Be strategic about applying. Prestigious scholarships or ones with very broad criteria can be a lot more competitive.

Spend your time searching for scholarships that really match your experience, background, and interests. There are free online scholarship search services that can help you find those that fit, including Cappex, the College Board, Fastweb, and Scholarships.com. You fill out a profile to identify what's unique about you, and the services match you with potential scholarships.

Make yourself stand out. Most scholarships require an essay. A compelling personal story can catch the judges' attention. Many programs value community involvement, for instance. But if you don't have time for community service because you're working, you're a single parent or a caregiver, or you have other challenges, explaining your situation is another way to set yourself apart.

Write about something you're passionate about or that shows special abilities. It could be baking cookies or being involved in your school's theater program. Scholarship granters also like to see people who've overcome obstacles or hardships and have learned from them. "They like to see how students face adversity, which can be an indicator of how they'll handle the challenges of college," says Hunt.

You can learn a lot from past winners, too. Ask for sample winning entries from the organization administering the scholarship program, which can provide insight.

Go big and small. National scholarships are often more lucrative than local community ones, so targeting a few of them is a good way to start.

But your odds of snagging a local scholarship may be better because you'll likely be competing against fewer students. Talk to the guidance counselors at your high school to see which organizations they work with. If you're already in college, go to your school's financial aid office to ask for a list of outside scholarships other students are getting, says Hunt from ECMC.

Churches, nonprofits, civic organizations such as Rotary Clubs, and local businesses frequently offer scholarships. Companies are another common source, so check with your local Chamber of Commerce or your parents' employers. Go the extra mile by looking up previous winners or going to awards ceremonies to see who scores the awards.

Focus on your career. Some professional organizations offer scholarships to entice people to enter the field, especially in hard-to-fill professions.

Check out the Department of Labor's CareerOneStop scholarship finder tool, which lists more than 7,500 scholarships for undergraduate and graduate school programs.

For example, the American Association of Equine Practitioners lists eight scholarships for students doing equine research or going into veterinary health careers. The Coyote Rock Ranch in Oregon awarded three scholarships for $75,000 each in 2018 to equine veterinary students. The American Concrete Institute offers fellowships and scholarships to students in a concrete-related degree program, such as construction management or industrial design.

Then there's the $5,000 John Kitt Memorial Scholarship from the American Association of Candy Technologists, for college students with a demonstrated interest in confectionery technology, including research projects, work experience, or formal study.

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5 essential things to know about private student loans

The following article is from NICHE

January 10, 2019

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You knew college would be expensive, but maybe you didn't realize it would cost quite this much.

If money in your college fund is coming up short, you may turn to private student loans to make up the difference. Many students do. In fact, per The Institute for College Access & Success, students took out $7.8 billion worth of private student loans in 2014-2015, up from $5.2 billion in 2010-2011.

But before you plunge into the private student loan pool, there are a few important things you should do. Here they are:

1. Make sure there's no other source of funding first.

Before you even think about taking out a private student loan, make sure you've squeezed all the money out of your federal (public) student loans first.

Find out: What is the difference between private loans and federal loans?

Abril Hunt is a national trainings manager of outreach and financial literacy for Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECMC), a nonprofit corporation with a mission to help students succeed. As she puts it: "ALWAYS expend Federal Direct Student Loan eligibility before looking into a private education loan. Private student loans don't have the same benefits as federal loans. They aren't guaranteed by the United States Government. There are usually no cancellation options for death or disability.

"And unless you have rock star credit," she warns, "your interest rate could be in the double digits."

Therefore, a private student loan isn't something to enter into on a whim.

Once you've ensured all your federal money is used up, "make sure you seek the advice of your school's financial aid office before taking out a private loan," Hunt adds.

Joe DePaulo, CEO and Co-Founder of College Ave Student Loans, agrees: "If your finances are coming up short to pay for the upcoming semester," he says, "it's never too late to contact your financial aid administrator about your personal circumstances. They may be able to help you find additional funding options to cover the gap."

2. Ask questions. Then ask more questions.

If a private loan appears to be your best or only option, it pays (perhaps literally) to do your homework.

Private lenders have the ability to set varying interest rates and terms, so it's essential you understand all the details of what a lender is offering before you take out the loan. The best way to do that? Research. Ask questions. Persist until you're 100% crystal clear on what you're agreeing to.

Hunt gives this advice: "Ask the lender what rate they base their interest on — U.S. Prime Rate or LiBOR — then make sure you understand the difference between the two. Is there a margin added to the rate? Is it Fixed or Adjustable? How often do they compound and capitalize interest?

Other questions she recommends you ask a lender:

  • Is there a Loan Origination Fee?
  • Are there interest rate reductions for ACH (automatic payments)?
  • Are there any prepayment penalties?
  • Are there charges or fees for changing due dates, or repayment plans.

Still stuck? "Search online for the terms you don't understand," Hunt suggests. "Better yet, make an appointment with your school's financial aid counselor for a quick private loans 101 chat."

"Sure, it can be overwhelming," she says, "but putting your head in the sand only makes things worse."

Students took out $7.8 billion in private student loans in 2014-15. Find private loan options now.

3. Have a (strong) cosigner on hand.

To get a truly good rate on a private student loan, Neil Sader, managing partner of The Sader Law Firm in Kansas City, recommends finding a cosigner. But that doesn't mean just any adult willing to do you a favor. They need to have good credit.

"If you do need to consider private student loans," he says, "applying with a cosigner with strong credit can help you get approved and may help you qualify for a better interest rate, which can mean a lower total cost of the loan."

"But note," he warns, "cosigners are equally obligated to pay back the loan."

Robert Farrington, a student loan expert and founder of The College Investor, has additional advice for the cosigner: "Make sure that you get a loan with cosigner release so that your cosigner can get off the loan in the future.

Also, he warns, "many people don't like to discuss death, but it does happen. The cosigner should get insurance on the borrower for the amount of the loan in case something happens."

4. Borrow as little as you possibly can.

When it comes to loans, less is more.

Sader says that if a private loan is the only kind of loan available to you, keep this general advice in mind: "It is appropriate to borrow for tuition, books, school fees. Don't borrow living expenses. Borrowing living expenses is usually when I find people run into problems."

"You should really be considering the value of the degree you're getting," says Farrington, "what you expect to make after graduation, and can you service the loan payments and live. A small private loan might work for you to cover the gap you need to finish school, but you should be leery in funding your entire education via private loans."

"A good rule of thumb," he adds, "is never borrow more than you expect to make in your first year after graduation. If you want to be teacher, great! But you probably won't make more than $45,000 per year early in your career, so you shouldn't borrow more than that to fund your college education."

Farrington stresses: "College is an investment — and you expect to get a return in terms of salary and career after graduation. If you borrow too much, you'll have a negative ROI and you'll struggle financially after graduation for years."

5. Start making payments now, even if they're not much.

Interest accumulation on private student loans typically starts right away, while you're taking classes. That means that by the time you graduate, you'll already owe thousands more than you borrowed.

To head that off at the pass, Brian Meiggs, founder of personal finance site MyMillennialGuide, suggests paying that interest while you're still in school, if you can. "This will keep your principal balance level," he says, "and when you graduate, you will only owe what you originally borrowed."

By contributing, if not every month, then at least whenever you can, "you can help ease the burden you will inevitably feel once you are required to start paying off your student loans," he says. "Make a small sacrifice now to help yourself out in a big way in the future."

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Maximize your scholarship potential with top 10 tips from ECMC

January through March is prime scholarship application season

January 9, 2019

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The start of the year means the start of prime scholarship season for current and incoming college students. Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECMC) is offering a Top 10 list of tips to help students make the most of the season while potentially lowering their student debt.

"While many scholarships open in September, January through the first part of March is the ideal time for students to apply for scholarships, with most of the deadlines occurring by March 15," said Abril Hunt, national trainings manager, outreach and financial literacy at ECMC. "Scholarships are a great way to reduce the cost of college. With the multitude of options available, students just need to know how to find them."

ECMC, which works to lower student loan default rates and sponsors financial literacy programs, developed the following tips to help students and families maximize their scholarship potential:

  1. Leave no scholarship stone unturned. To increase the likelihood of obtaining scholarships, look for options in every area of your life: field of study, extracurricular activities, geographic area, heritage, employer, etc.
  2. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Applying for a large number of scholarships, versus a small number of high dollar offerings, can help you maximize chances of winning.
  3. Get to know yourself. The first step to create a compelling essay is taking time to reflect on your strengths, activities you enjoy, favorite subjects and what's important to you. Writing about something you care about is often easier and more enjoyable.
  4. Get involved in your community. Most scholarships request some type of community service. Working short periods for many different organizations is okay, but spending time volunteering at one or two key organizations gives you more depth of experience and can make for a stronger application.
  5. Don't sell yourself short. If you didn't have time to volunteer with a community organization but you worked and went to school, or you are a single parent and trying to juggle family/work/school, leverage those activities that illustrate your tenacity and ability to overcome obstacles.
  6. Be yourself. You may not have a specific example of every personal characteristic—some people consider themselves leaders, while others feel strongly about their academics or volunteerism. Don't focus on what you think might lead to a good essay. Make your personal story come alive, and be honest about your life experiences.
  7. Learn from past winners. Request sample winning entries from the organization administering the scholarship program. This can provide insight on the types of individuals and/or essays that won in the past.
  8. Work smarter, not harder. If possible, leverage your school work for your scholarship essays. Need to write a personal essay? Pen it with the application in mind. Or edit one that you've previously drafted. Of course, make sure the essay you submit is your work!
  9. Get through the "first look." The judges' first evaluation of your application is quick—usually 15 to 30 seconds—so make sure everything is complete. Also, be sure to craft an application that will capture the judges' interest right away.
  10. Be persistent. There are many kinds of scholarships available, including unique ones, if you know where to look and are willing to do some legwork. Some great resources include www.fastweb.com, www.scholarships.com, www.goldendoorscholars.org or simply search online for "weird scholarships." Apply to as many as possible, and don't discount a scholarship because it's "small." Smaller scholarships are less competitive. Think about the hourly rate earned if you receive a $500 scholarship that took you two hours to complete.

In addition to these tips, ECMC offers a free, downloadable Opportunities workbook that features a variety of worksheets and information in English and Spanish to help students throughout the college planning process.

For more information, visit www.ecmc.org/students.

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ECMC Group President and CEO Jeremy Wheaton appointed to Jeremiah Program's national governing board of directors

January 4, 2019

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Jeremy Wheaton, president and chief executive officer of ECMC Group, has been appointed to a three-year term on the national governing board of directors of Jeremiah Program.

"Jeremiah Program is incredibly fortunate to have Jeremy on the governing board," said Gloria Perez, president and CEO of Jeremiah Program. "His business acumen, compassion and understanding of college access and education will help the organization fulfill its mission."

Headquartered in Minneapolis, Jeremiah Program is a national nonprofit dedicated to transforming mothers and their children out of poverty two generations at a time through empowerment and life skills training, safe and affordable housing, a supportive community, quality early childhood education, and career-track, college education.

"The 20-year history of Jeremiah Program, as well as its plan for the future, is impressive as well as inspirational," Wheaton said. "I look forward to partnering with Gloria, her leadership team and the entire board as we continue to position families on a path to success."

Wheaton previously served on the Jeremiah Program Governing Finance Committee.

ECMC Group has provided support to Jeremiah Program through grants by its philanthropic arm, ECMC Foundation, and also through ECMC Group employee volunteer time.

About Jeremiah Program
Jeremiah Program offers one of the nation's most successful strategies for transforming families from poverty to prosperity two generations at a time. Jeremiah prepares determined single mothers to excel in the workforce, readies their children to succeed in school, and reduces generational dependence on public assistance.

Jeremiah's proven, holistic approach begins with establishing a supportive community for determined single mothers to pursue a career-track, college education. Through a combination of quality early childhood education, a safe and affordable place to live, and empowerment and life skills training, families find stability and a path out of poverty.

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