2020 news archives

How to prepare for the FAFSA

The following article is from FOX 6 Milwaukee

December 8, 2020

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Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a prerequisite for receiving financial aid for college. The Department of Education receives approximately 20 million FAFSA submissions each year, providing aid to an estimated 13 million students.

The information you provide on your FAFSA determines whether you qualify for federal student loans, grants, work-study, and other aid. Colleges and universities also use it when awarding school-based aid.

How to prepare for the FAFSA
If you plan to complete the FAFSA this year, keep these tips in mind.

  1. Create a Federal Student Aid ID before enrollment begins
  2. Have the necessary documents readily available
  3. Avoid mistakes, such as missing deadlines
  4. Submit your FAFSA as early as possible
  5. Get free help if you need it

1. Create a Federal Student Aid ID before enrollment begins The Department of Education begins accepting FAFSA submissions in October of each year. One thing you'll need to complete the application is a Federal Student Aid ID.

This username and password allow you to access the Federal Student Aid system online and electronically sign your FAFSA. Students and parents should make their own FSA ID, said Holly Franquet, the student success director at Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECMC). Remember to make note of your respective IDs, since you'll need them to renew your FAFSA each academic year.

If you've hit your limit as a federal student loan borrower, visit Credible to explore private student loan options.

2. Have the necessary documents readily available
Completing the FAFSA means providing some basic information, including:

  • Your name and social security number
  • Driver's license number
  • Physical and mailing address
  • Name of the university or college you're interested in attending
  • Which type of degree you're working toward (i.e. associate's degree, bachelor's degree, higher degree, etc.)

You'll also need to share details about household income, assets, and taxes. The documents you'll need for that include your parents' most recent tax returns and W-2s and your own, if applicable. Bank statements, non-retirement investment account statements, and any documentation showing child support or alimony income would also be necessary to finalize your FAFSA.

If your family's income was impacted in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic, you should still submit your 2019 tax return, said Franquet. But after completing your FAFSA, you should reach out to the financial aid office at the university or college you plan to attend to explain your current financial situation.

3. Avoid mistakes, such as missing deadlines
The deadline for submitting your FAFSA is June 30 so it's important to mark your calendar to make sure you get yours in on time.

Aside from that, Franquet said there are some other common mistakes to avoid, including:

  • Being confused over where to enter student information vs. parent information
  • Entering information that doesn't match Social Security records
  • Entering information related to taxes incorrectly
  • Not understanding whether to file as a dependent or independent student

It's also important to make sure you're not leaving spaces blank and that all the information you've included is accurate. Double-checking each page of your FAFSA before hitting submit can help you spot any errors and correct them.

4. Submit your FAFSA as early as possible
Technically, you have a fairly wide window of time to submit your FAFSA. But waiting could be a mistake if your school doles out financial aid on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Some colleges and universities may set the deadline for receiving the FAFSA earlier than the end of June. Additionally, your state can impose a different FAFSA deadline. But don't panic if it takes you a little longer to get your form in.

"Even if you submit the FAFSA late, you're eligible for a Federal Direct Loan of up to $5,500 for the first year of college," Franquet said. "After that, parents can apply for a Federal PLUS Loan that can cover up to the entire cost of attendance."

5. Get free help if you need it
If you have questions about filling out the FAFSA, the Department of Education offers free help. The Federal Student Aid Information Center is an online resource that's designed to make completing the FAFSA easier. If you need additional assistance, you can ask questions via email, phone, or live chat.

Planning early can pay off
Remember, completing the FAFSA doesn't guarantee that you'll receive all the financial aid you need to pay for school. If your aid package isn't enough, you can try writing a financial aid appeal letter asking your school for more money.

Private student loans are another option to pay for school if you've exhausted other student aid options. When searching for private loans, it's important to compare interest rates and repayment terms to find a borrowing option that best fits your needs and budget.

Using an online tool like Credible makes it easy to view fixed and variable interest rates for private student loans from multiple lenders in one place.

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How to get FAFSA completion help during COVID-19

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

November 19, 2020

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After months of record-breaking unemployment numbers and economic turmoil, fewer students in the high school class of 2021 are applying for federal financial aid.

This trend may be head-scratching for some, but experts worry high school students learning virtually aren't getting the support they need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, known as the FAFSA. They are concerned that stressors related to the coronavirus pandemic are taking the focus off of time-sensitive financial aid deadlines, or that prospective students have chosen not to attend college altogether.

The number of completed FAFSAs is down about 16% nationally, according to data provided by the U.S. Department of Education and analysis by the nonprofit National College Attainment Network through the week of Nov. 6. The rate of completion is down even more significantly at high-minority high schools – those with at least 40% Black and Hispanic student enrollment – with about 21% fewer FAFSAs completed compared to this time last year.

Katherine Pastor, a school counselor at Flagstaff High School in Arizona, says the college and financial aid support systems in place for high school seniors have been eliminated or made more challenging by the transition to online learning.

"Before, I could just pop into your class and have a quick conversation," Pastor says. "Now, I'm trying to find where you're at, get a Zoom link, ask the teacher to create a breakout room for us, and hope that the student knows how to share their screen with me so I can help them with where they're at in the application."

Counselors note barriers to providing financial aid counseling such as students' limited access to the internet and computers; technological frustrations; limitations of a video call to assist with tasks like locating the correct tax form in a pile of paperwork; and now widely understood feelings of Zoom fatigue for counselors, parents and students alike.

Beyond the logistical problems, Pastor says both college and financial aid can become "out of sight, out of mind" as families are so far removed from their high school and its support staff at schools that have transitioned to virtual or hybrid learning.

Jennifer Satalino, student success director at ECMC, a nonprofit that assists student loan borrowers, says the decline in FAFSA completions may also be caused by students feeling unmotivated or believing that the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have rendered college out of reach. Already in fall 2020 thus far, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reports undergraduate enrollment is about 4% below last year's level – a trend some experts worry may continue.

"They are grieving," Satalino says. "They haven't had the typical senior year; they're probably not going to. They are concerned that next year they might be in college, but still learning in their bedroom."

Overcoming New Obstacles to Get Free Financial Aid Help
In spite of these challenges, as high schools and colleges continue to embrace virtual learning during the pandemic, counselors and financial aid officers have also adapted and created new supports for students.

Flagstaff High School, for example, now offers advising sessions that don't require an appointment before school, after school and at lunch through Zoom, during which a counselor is available to answer student and parent questions about filling out the FAFSA.

Additionally, many states are continuing to offer FAFSA nights in a virtual format through their departments of higher education. The Utah Higher Education Assistance Authority, for example, offers virtual FAFSA nights through a Zoom call that allows students and families to work on the form from their personal device with live support from financial aid professionals and volunteers.

Students can also take advantage of College Goal Sunday, also called FAFSA Day, an opportunity for free help applying for financial aid held in an online format on Sundays in the fall and spring. The date or dates of College Goal Sunday vary by state.

Students can also use the Department of Education's Federal Student Aid Help Center online or call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 800-433-3243.

Current and prospective students should take advantage of emails, webinars, YouTube videos that walk students through the form step by step, and other virtual events and resources that colleges share, says KC Woods, associate director of financial aid and scholarship programs at Syracuse University in New York.

And while students may be limited in their ability to walk into the financial aid office and ask for help, their university, like Syracuse, may have a "virtual lobby" via Zoom to get the equivalent of walk-in support.

Some high schools are also continuing to offer in-person FAFSA resources that students and their families can access.

Teresa Peterson, head counselor at Pine View High School in Utah, says the school has already held one in-person FAFSA night this fall with social distancing and other COVID-19 safety measures, on top of a virtual FAFSA night, virtual college application night, and other online events and resources available.

"Because of the weirdness and the angst people have, it's almost harder for them to get their ducks in a row," Peterson says. "But a lot of our kids are at least reaching out about this. Now if they're actually following through, I don't know."

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Statewide higher ed messaging campaign launches "123Go!" Steps to college video

The following article is from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia Press Release

November 19, 2020

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To mark Virginia College Application Week (Nov. 16-20), The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) launched a statewide video featuring college students encouraging high schoolers to attend some form of postsecondary education after graduation. The video is based around SCHEV’s and Educational Credit Management Corporation’s (ECMC) 1-2-3 Go! initiative, which provides a series of informational events and resources, including Virginia College Application Week, to help students make informed decisions about their education after high school.

As with previous components of the statewide messaging campaign featuring college and university presidents and mascots, the 1-2-3 Go! video offers a message of encouragement and valuable information for Virginia students and their families, including many facts and tips:

FACTS:

  • College graduates make about a million dollars more over the course of their lives than people with just a high school diploma.
  • “College” means many things; it can be going to a traditional college or community college, getting a certification or license, or training through an apprenticeship – it’s about pursuing any form of education after high school.
  • Approximately $120 billion in federal and $250 million in Virginia state aid programs is available each year to help students pay for college.

TIPS:

Research options for the best fit. Look at things like school size, location, costs, competitiveness, etc. Learn more by exploring and completing the College Opportunities Guide and Workbook and attending College Night Events across Virginia sponsored by ECMC.

Visit www.strivescan.com/virginia/ to review virtual tours, panels, and conversations with admissions offices from colleges and universities across Virginia.

Pay attention to college application deadlines. Most four-year colleges have early application deadlines in November and December, with regular deadlines in January and February. Community colleges have flexible deadlines, meaning that they accept applications as they are received.

Check for fee waivers. If a student’s family is eligible for free or reduced priced lunch, they are likely eligible for SAT, ACT and college application fee waivers.

Research and apply for scholarships. Scholarships are available through many sources, including schools, employers, banks, nonprofits, faith-based organizations and professional organizations.

Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (aka FAFSA) beginning October 1. Many institutions and private scholarships require students to submit the FAFSA before they will consider them for any financial aid. Remember that financial aid is limited and generally awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. Be aware of FAFSA priority filing deadlines. Some deadlines are as early as December, but the most common is March 1. Visit www.schev.edu/financialaiddeadlines for Virginia’s deadlines.

Visit www.schev.edu/123go for information on available financial aid webinars from the Virginia Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (VASFAA).

Compare financial aid packages, talk with your family and school counselors, and commit to your future! Many students make these decisions around May 1.

“Our colleges and universities have come together to inform Virginia students about the benefits of education beyond high school," said Erin McGrath, SCHEV's assistant director of college access & PK12 outreach. "We hope this new video will ignite excitement among high school students as they make plans to further their education in the coming years."

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The complete guide to federal student loan repayment

The following article is from Centsai

September 21, 2020

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You're just months away from graduating and staring down the barrel of tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt. The world's economy is struggling, and you are worried about being able to repay your loans in time. What now?

If you have federal student loans, you're in luck. Well, as much luck as you can have with student loan debt. The good news is that federal loans offer various student loan repayment options for borrowers after they graduate, so you're not just stuck with one payment plan.

Tackling Your Student Loan Debt

To start with, it is important to see how much you owe — find out via the National Student Loan Data System. This tool should provide you with your full federal loan balance. If you have private student loans, you should contact the lender directly.

After that, your next step should be to visit the Federal Student Aid website, which will continually provide updated information about student loan debt.

While you research which repayment option to use, be aware that most federal loan applicants will have a six-month grace period after graduation, during which there are no loan repayments at all.

If you don't choose a plan after you graduate and start paying back your loans, you'll automatically be enrolled in the Standard Repayment Plan.

But you have more options than that and if you just graduated or are about to, you want to know what they are. Here's a breakdown of federal student loan repayment options:

Standard Repayment Plan

As mentioned above, this is the plan you'll be enrolled in automatically, if you don't choose a plan. Through the Standard Repayment Plan, you'll have 10 years to pay off your student loans. Payments are a fixed amount of at least $50 per month, according to Federal Student Aid.

This is the best option if you can afford it, because the sooner you can repay your loans, the more money you'll save on interest.

"[Standard Repayment Plans] work best for those with a competitive salary in their first job after college and for those who want to pay off their loans quickly," says Lori Auxier, director of student success at the Educational Credit Management Corporation.

This plan isn't recommended for people who don't have a job yet, have a lower salary than expected, or plan to seek Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)," Auxier adds.

With the Standard Repayment Plan, it's also important to note that you can pay more than your fixed payments and get out of debt in less than 10 years.

One mistake I made when I first graduated was looking at my student loans as a bill, and paying just what I was told to pay.

Federal student loans do not have prepayment penalties. I could have shaved a few years off of my student loan repayment by paying more than the minimum.

Graduated Repayment Plan

Through the Graduated Repayment Plan, your initial payments will start out small and gradually increase every two years. The thinking behind this is that as time goes by, your income will go up, and you can afford larger payments.

"This is a good option for those with a lower starting salary and the potential for a higher salary in a few years," says Auxier. "This plan will result in paying more over the life of the loan and is generally not a qualifying repayment plan for PSLF."

This plan offers student loan repayment periods between 10 and 30 years. This may be a good option if your income is low now, but you are expecting wage increases in the future.

Extended Repayment Plan

If you have significant debt and your monthly payments are outrageous, you may want to consider the Extended Repayment Plan, which allows you to pay back your loans within 25 years, according to Federal Student Aid. Your payments can be fixed, meaning they'll stay the same, or graduated, meaning they'll increase over time.

"This is a good option for those who need a lower monthly payment and more time to pay off their loans, or if they expect to earn a lower salary over time," adds Auxier. "This plan will result in paying more over the life of the loan and is not a qualifying repayment plan for PSLF."

To qualify for this plan, you must have more than $30,000 in outstanding loans. Under this plan, your payments will be much lower and much more spread out. The downside? That increased lifetime cost can be nearly double your initial balance because of the additional interest, according to FinAid. This plan should be entered into lightly, often as a last resort.

Income-Based Repayment (IBR)

If you're currently struggling to get by, Income-Based Repayment can be a blessing. This plan caps your monthly payments at 15 percent of your discretionary income and allows you to pay your loans over up to 25 years, according to Federal Student Aid. After 25 years, any remaining balance will be forgiven.

However, there are some things you should know. First, you need to qualify. Typically, if your student debt would be a significant portion of your annual income, you'll qualify. Your student loan payments must also be lower than what they might be under the Standard Repayment Plan.

While you may have affordable payments under IBR, you will end up paying more in interest.

And if the remaining balance on your loans is forgiven at the end of the 25-year period, that amount may be considered taxable income, according to the same source.

In other words, if $40,000 is forgiven, you could see a tax bill of several thousand dollars, as current tax law will consider that $40,000 in forgiven loans as income.

Pay As You Earn

This is another plan that can help you if you are struggling to repay your student loans. Pay As You Earn generally involves monthly payments at 10 percent of your discretionary income.

Under this plan, your student loan repayment period is 20 years.

"These plans cap payments at 10 percent of a borrower's income. [They] require annual recertification and will result in paying more over the life of the loan," says Auxier. "However, the outstanding loan balance after a certain timeframe (depending on loan type) is forgiven. These plans are qualifying repayment plans for PSLF."

As with IBR, for this plan you must qualify based on your income. However, the IBR tax trap still remains and you may see a hefty tax bill if your loans are forgiven.

Income-Contingent Repayment Plan

This plan is one of the only income-driven plans for which you don't have to qualify. Under Income-Contingent Repayment plans, your payments are calculated each year based on a number of factors: your adjusted gross income, discretionary income, family size, and the total amount of loans you have.

"These plans let borrowers pay 10 to 20 percent of their discretionary income," says Auxier. "[They] result in paying more over the life of the loan; however, the outstanding loan balance after a certain timeframe (depending on loan type) is forgiven. These plans are qualifying repayment plans for PSLF."

Your repayment period is 25 years and only after that can any unpaid portion be forgiven, according to Federal Student Aid. Once again, you may have to pay income tax on your forgiven loans.

Which One Should You Choose?

As you can see, there are a variety of options to choose from. But which one is right for you? Well, that depends on your income and how quickly you want to pay off your loans.

Be aware that student loan repayment has changed slightly, due to COVID-19. "For borrowers currently in their grace period on federally held student loans, interest rates are set to zero percent on those loans until December 31, 2020," says Auxier. "If possible, it's still a great idea to make payments during this time to pay down the balance more quickly."

If you can afford it, the Standard Repayment Plan is likely your best option to repay those loans. If you're struggling, consider using IBR until you can afford more.

You can make arrangements with your loan servicer to set up a federal student loan repayment plan. The key is to do your research and pick a plan that is best for your financial situation.

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ECMC offers tips to navigate the path to college in the current COVID-19 environment

September 9, 2020

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MINNEAPOLIS—Despite an uncertain back-to-school season, high school seniors still need to make plans for their postsecondary education journey. To help students and families navigate the process in the current virtual environment, Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECMC) is offering free resources and helpful tips. ECMC is a nonprofit focused on helping students succeed.

"Preparing and planning for college is stressful under normal circumstances, but the coronavirus pandemic has further complicated the process," said Lori Auxier, director of student success at ECMC. "We at ECMC want to help students and families as they look to plot a course for their future educational plans in what has become an unpredictable environment."

ECMC offers the following tips to help students and families in the coming months and beyond:

  1. Attend online college prep sessions. Students should check with their high school or other local college planning organizations to see if they plan to host any virtual events that would provide how-tos about financial aid and finding a college that is the right fit for the student. ECMC's The College Place college access centers are actively hosting free online sessions to help families navigate this journey.
  2. Take advantage of virtual college tours. With colleges pivoting to provide incoming students with online offerings meant to mimic the in-person experience, students have the ability to "visit" prospective campuses from their computers. Many offer virtual tours and online college fairs as well as additional resources.
  3. Connect with your schools of choice. It's never too early to reach out to admissions representatives with questions or to learn more about their programs and majors. They may also be able to help with adjustments to admissions requirements due to the pandemic. In addition, these connections illustrate your interest in a particular school, which may prove beneficial during the application process.
  4. Become a social media fan. A great way to learn more about a prospective school is to follow them on social media. Schools often provides access to current students who can provide additional insight about campus life.
  5. Don't worry too much about standardized tests. More than 1,200 schools are now test optional for incoming freshman in 2021, meaning you do not need to take a standardized test for admission. If you have not taken college entrance exams, do not stress about trying to find a test location, particularly if it would put your health at risk. Campuses are aware of test limitations, and current scheduled tests may be postponed or not possible in areas considered COVID-19 hot spots. Visit fairtest.org for many schools policies and check with schools' admissions offices for more information.
  6. Apply for financial aid. Figuring out how to pay for college can be a daunting task. The first place to start is by filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which is available October 1. The FAFSA is the gateway to federal financial aid as well as grants and scholarships, which will help you determine what you can afford.
  7. Consider how your field of study translates into the workforce. The pandemic has highlighted essential jobs that exist even when the economy is upended. Students and families need to contemplate the employability of their chosen field to ensure their college funds are well spent.
  8. Focus on the factors you can control. Now through January is an excellent time to write essays for college applications and apply for scholarships. With literally thousands of scholarships available in a variety of areas, students can maximize their ability to secure these funds by focusing a bit of time, effort and creativity to the process.

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

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

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Evaluating college acceptance letters

August 6, 2020

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Making the Final Decision
Forward thinking during a pandemic is never wasted effort. Prospective college students are watching from a distance to see how college campuses are providing safety measures for their current students on and off campus. These actions are informing next semester's or next year's students on how to make the final decision for their postsecondary journey.

Considerations when reviewing and comparing your financial aid offers:

  • Is a physical visit to campus possible? If not, you may be able to virtually tour the campus online at: www.campustours.com. Things to consider: distance from home, rural/vs urban, college size, class size, and more.
  • Does the institution fit your personality, personal goals and interests the best?
  • What is the graduation rate of the institution? A college that has a 25% graduation rate means that only 1 out of 4 students graduate! A college that has a 90% graduation rate means that 9 out of 10 students graduate.

Understand your financial aid offer
Once you have applied for financial aid by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and any other financial aid forms required by the college, you will receive a financial aid offer. This offer will detail the types and amounts of financial aid the college is offering you for the upcoming year along with your expected costs for the year. The offer may arrive with your notice of acceptance or may be available online.

Read the fine print
Read your award notification carefully to ensure you understand all terms and conditions. You can accept, decline or reduce any award offered. You may need to complete additional paperwork (i.e. loan applications).

Identify the following items for each college you are comparing

  • Cost of Attendance
    • Includes tuition, fees, housing, meal plan, books, transportation, etc. Some are fixed prices (tuition/fees) while other items are based on your personal financial decisions such as sharing a dorm room vs. a single dorm room.
  • Grants and scholarships: FREE money – does not have to be repaid as long as you meet the grant or scholarship requirements (ASK: is the grant/scholarship renewable?)
  • Work Study
    • Part-time employment opportunities may be available for students who qualify and indicate an interest on the FAFSA or institutional aid applications. You may need to complete additional paperwork (i.e., job applications).
    • Will opportunities for work-study be offered virtually at the college you're interested in?
  • Student Loans
    • NOT free money – MUST be repaid
    • Key words for loans: Direct, Subsidized, Unsubsidized, Parent PLUS, Grad PLUS

Students can accept, decline or reduce the award offered.

Compare
When comparing financial aid offers, consider your final out-of-pocket cost. An offer containing loans may have a higher ultimate out-of-pocket cost than an equivalent offer containing mostly grants.

Check out the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's new tool to help understand your financial aid offers. The tool helps you make a plan to pay for costs your aid offer doesn't cover. It also offers student loan help to decide how much you can afford to borrow; breaks down confusing jargon, provides money saving tips and points out pitfalls.

Make your college aware of any special circumstances
Considering the pandemic situation, be mindful that your family's financial situation may change after the FAFSA has been submitted due to unemployment or illness. If this occurs, be sure to report any changes to your college's financial aid office. Have you been awarded additional private scholarships? Any of these changes can affect your offer.

What if it's not enough?
If after reviewing the offer letter you believe that the offer and your family savings are not enough to cover all of your expenses, don't panic! There are other options.

  • Research any and all sources for private scholarships. It may not be too late to apply.
  • Consider any potential benefits from your (or your parent's) place of employment.
  • See if your college offers a payment plan that allows tuition expenses to be spread out over the year.

Additional documentation

Review all acceptance offers and determine:

  • Is additional documentation needed to complete the admissions process?
  • Are instructions provided for setting up your student account?

Meet deadlines
Once you've selected a college that meets your needs and comfort level during the pandemic, you might need to inform the college, in writing, about how much of the offer you plan to accept. If you don't respond by the date indicated, your offer could be in jeopardy.

Help is available. ECMC's The College Place offers free assistance by qualified college access professionals. You can also download a variety of free college resources here: https://www.ecmc.org/students/opportunities-guide-workbook.html and here https://www.ecmc.org/students/resource-guides.html.

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ECMC to serve as third-party guarantor servicer for Missouri Department of Higher Education & Workforce Development

August 3, 2020

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Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECMC) announced today that it has completed the conversion of $12.3 billion in loan guarantees from the Missouri Department of Higher Education & Workforce Development (MDHEWD). MDHEWD will continue to serve as the guarantor for the state of Missouri, with ECMC performing functional and operational guarantor work on MDHEWD's behalf.

The conversion represents an expansion of ECMC's third-party guarantor offerings.

"We are excited for the opportunity to partner with MDHEWD to support its mission and help its borrowers successfully repay their loans," said Dan Fisher, president of ECMC.

Established in 1994, ECMC is one of the largest guarantors for the federal student loan program in the country. Since 1996, ECMC has acquired the guaranty agency portfolios of Virginia, Oregon, Connecticut, California, Tennessee, South Carolina, Rhode Island and Maine. Additionally, ECMC has been performing third-party guarantor servicing since 2015 and has the following clients: College Assist, American Student Assistance, Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance, Michigan Guaranty Agency and Oklahoma College Assistance Program.

About Missouri Department of Higher Education & Workforce Development
The department works to empower Missourians with the skills and education needed for success. More information about MDHEWD can be found at https://dhewd.mo.gov or on Facebook and Twitter @MoDHEWD.

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Plan wisely for college

The following article is from Suffolk News-Herald

July 13, 2020

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Summer is a reality check for recent high school graduates. Those college admission letters that created such excitement have been tempered by the new knowledge of exactly how much parents and students will have to pay or borrow to make up the difference between what financial aid and scholarships will provide. This is particularly true in the present pandemic, when some parents have lost their jobs and students are questioning whether they will get the full "college experience" they were expecting.

Tuition and room and board are not the only college costs. Textbooks, student fees, meals that are not covered by the college plan, and transportation all add up and, in some cases, provide an unwelcome surprise of the actual cost of a year of college away from home.

Most students and parents have at least considered the option of going to community college for a year or two to complete general education requirements. However, not everyone realizes just how much money this option can save. Community colleges across Virginia have instituted a new program called "Guided Pathways." The goal is to ensure that every course a student at a community college takes will transfer as a degree requirement to the university of the student's choice or ensure a student has the possibility of earning a career certificate in the most efficient way possible. Tidewater Community College has articulation agreements with almost every Virginia four-year university, and students have guaranteed admission to the college of their choice if they take certain coursework and maintain the required grade point average.

Another way students can cut college costs is to complete a career certificate at TCC so that they can get a better-paying job to pay their living expenses while completing a four-year degree. A student might not want that job for a lifetime, but a higher-paying job would certainly enable a student to finish college in a chosen career field with far less student loan debt.

A third way to lower college costs significantly is by taking College Level Examination Program tests and earning college credit for what a student has already learned or is willing to study independently. A student can check if the college he or she is planning to attend will take CLEP credits, and in which subjects, by searching the name of the college and CLEP. Although some selective colleges do not accept credit by CLEP examination, most public and private colleges in Virginia do. Successfully passing CLEP tests can earn a student up to a year of college credits at very minimal cost.

Excellent resources are available from the State Council on Higher Education in Virginia at schev.edu/123gotoolkits. Resource guides on multiple topics related to college choices are available at www.ecmc.org/students/resource-guides.html.

Embarking on higher education is not a social decision — it is a business decision. Maturity means delaying present gratification for future long-term benefits. Now is the time to make wise educational decisions and wise financial choices.

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ECMC offers tips to navigate the path to college in the current COVID-19 environment

July 8, 2020

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ECMC Group has named Dan Fisher president of its affiliate, Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECMC), effective July 1. Fisher succeeds former ECMC President Jan Hines, who retired after more than 26 years with the organization.

"We are grateful to Jan for her exceptional leadership and guidance, which have 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 our industry, 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, serves as general counsel for ECMC Group—a role he has held for 10 years. He also serves as corporate secretary and will maintain those positions in addition to serving as ECMC president. In his role as president, Fisher is responsible for the management and coordination of all Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP) and guaranty agency program activities for ECMC. He also oversees the organization's college access centers, training and outreach activities in the states where ECMC is the designated guarantor.

"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 provide post-transition consulting and support for the remainder of 2020.

Prior to joining ECMC Group, Fisher served on active duty in the U.S. Army as a judge advocate in Georgia and the Washington, D.C. area, where his primary focus was court-martial litigation. Fisher also serves on the national board of directors for the nonprofit Credit Abuse Resistance Education (CARE), which has 60 state and local chapters focusing on teaching young people the skills to improve their financial literacy. Fisher is admitted to practice in most federal appellate courts and the U.S. Supreme Court.

About ECMC Group
ECMC Group is a nonprofit corporation with a mission to help students succeed. Headquartered in Minneapolis, ECMC Group and its family of companies provide financial tools and services, nonprofit career education and funding for innovative programs to help students achieve their academic and professional goals. To learn more, visit www.ecmcgroup.org.

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ECMC awards $264,000 in college scholarships to 44 students in Virginia

July 7, 2020

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Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECMC) is proud to recognize 44 high school graduates from the class of 2020 who completed the ECMC Scholars Program. These students come from six select high schools across Virginia, and each earned a $6,000 scholarship.

For the past two years, these students participated in a comprehensive mentoring program designed to help build academic and life skills. Unlike a traditional academic scholarship, students were selected to participate in the program based on their potential—not solely on their academic merit. Working in collaboration with school staff and the ECMC Scholars Program team, students spent their junior and senior years of high school actively preparing for postsecondary education.

"I am so proud of the hard work and effort each one of the students has put in to earning their scholarship and preparing themselves for postsecondary education," said Sabrina Berg, ECMC Scholars Program manager. "In a year like no other, they have overcome obstacles never seen before and they are prepared for success in postsecondary education and beyond."

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. Scholarship funds can be used to help pay for tuition, fees, transportation, housing, food, books and school supplies. In addition, each class of 2020 scholarship recipient has been given the opportunity to receive personalized near-peer college coaching services provided by Beyond 12. This service provides academic, social and emotional support students need to persist in postsecondary education.

"Now more than ever, it is important to provide students with a holistic approach to helping them get to and through postsecondary education," said Paula Craw, ECMC vice president of student success and outreach. "The ECMC Scholars Program is designed to help students with challenges that may prevent them from reaching their education goals."

Since 2005, ECMC has awarded $8.7 million to 1,455 ECMC Scholars students in Virginia alone. Over the past 16 years, ECMC has awarded $18.5 million in scholarships to 3,091 students in Virginia, Oregon and Connecticut.

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ECMC awards $294,000 in college scholarships to 49 students in Oregon

July 7, 2020

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Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECMC) is proud to recognize 49 high school graduates from the class of 2020 who completed the ECMC Scholars Program. These students come from eight select high schools across Oregon, and each earned a $6,000 scholarship.

For the past two years, these students participated in a comprehensive mentoring program designed to help build academic and life skills. Unlike a traditional academic scholarship, students were selected to participate in the program based on their potential—not solely on their academic merit. Working in collaboration with school staff and the ECMC Scholars Program team, students spent their junior and senior years of high school actively preparing for postsecondary education.

"I am so proud of the hard work and effort each one of the students has put in to earning their scholarship and preparing themselves for postsecondary education," said Sabrina Berg, ECMC Scholars Program manager. "In a year like no other, they have overcome obstacles never seen before and they are prepared for success in postsecondary education and beyond."

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. Scholarship funds can be used to help pay for tuition, fees, transportation, housing, food, books and school supplies. In addition, each class of 2020 scholarship recipient has been given the opportunity to receive personalized near-peer college coaching services provided by Beyond 12. This service provides academic, social and emotional support students need to persist in postsecondary education.

"Now more than ever, it is important to provide students with a holistic approach to helping them get to and through postsecondary education," said Paula Craw, ECMC vice president of student success and outreach. "The ECMC Scholars Program is designed to help students with challenges that may prevent them from reaching their education goals."

Since 2008, ECMC has awarded $5.8 million to 970 ECMC Scholars students in Oregon alone.

Over the past 16 years, ECMC has awarded $18.5 million in scholarships to 3,091 students in Virginia, Oregon and Connecticut.

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ECMC awards $270,000 in college scholarships to 45 students in Connecticut

July 7, 2020

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Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECMC) is proud to recognize 45 high school graduates from the class of 2020 who completed the ECMC Scholars Program. These students come from six select high schools across Connecticut, and each earned a $6,000 scholarship.

For the past two years, these students participated in a comprehensive mentoring program designed to help build academic and life skills. Unlike a traditional academic scholarship, students were selected to participate in the program based on their potential—not solely on their academic merit. Working in collaboration with school staff and the ECMC Scholars Program team, students spent their junior and senior years of high school actively preparing for postsecondary education.

"I am so proud of the hard work and effort each one of the students has put in to earning their scholarship and preparing themselves for postsecondary education," said Sabrina Berg, ECMC Scholars Program manager. "In a year like no other, they have overcome obstacles never seen before and they are prepared for success in postsecondary education and beyond."

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. Scholarship funds can be used to help pay for tuition, fees, transportation, housing, food, books and school supplies. In addition, each class of 2020 scholarship recipient has been given the opportunity to receive personalized near-peer college coaching services provided by Beyond 12. This service provides academic, social and emotional support students need to persist in postsecondary education.

"Now more than ever, it is important to provide students with a holistic approach to helping them get to and through postsecondary education," said Paula Craw, ECMC vice president of student success and outreach. "The ECMC Scholars Program is designed to help students with challenges that may prevent them from reaching their education goals."

Since 2012, ECMC has awarded $4 million to 666 ECMC Scholars students in Connecticut alone. Over the past 16 years, ECMC has awarded $18.5 million in scholarships to 3,091 students in Virginia, Oregon and Connecticut.

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ECMC Group responds to the death of George Floyd

June 9, 2020

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We are heartbroken and frustrated over the senseless death of George Floyd in our home city of Minneapolis. Our hearts go out to Mr. Floyd's family and friends. He never should have lost his life at the hands of the very police charged with serving and protecting all citizens. It pains us to see the city we love—and so many others—in distress, yet we know that we cannot look away—that it is incumbent on all of us to speak up about systemic injustice and take action to eliminate it.

As an organization, we believe every person should have the opportunity to live and to thrive—free from prejudice and violence. We know that this moment demands we look inward and renew our commitment to helping African Americans and other underserved populations reach their full potential, and we intend to play a more active role in meeting this challenge head-on.

We also know that it is important right now to listen to those in the community with more experience in addressing all of the issues that combine to reinforce racism and systemic injustice in all its forms. Over the past several days, we have reached out to our employees and community partners and began a dialogue about how we can be a resource in this moment and deepen our engagement in the fight against racism and injustice in the neighborhoods where we live, work and serve, as well as aid in the recovery of those damaged by unrest. To this end, ECMC Foundation has dedicated an initial $1.25 million to be put to work here in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, as well as the broader communities we serve around the country.

We are heartened by the growing number of organizations and individuals making commitments to ensure this change occurs. There is strength in numbers and there is power in the widespread resolution we are seeing to transform our country into a more just nation. This work will not be easy but it is work we must do if we are going to build a better Twin Cities, a better country and a better world. It is work to which ECMC Group is committed.

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Honoring mental health month by supporting students in need

Featured on Medium and eCampus News

May 29, 2020

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As the coronavirus (COVID-19) quickly spread across the United States, millions of college students received an urgent, startling request: pack up and leave campus indefinitely.

Even as they recognized the public health imperative, many were left worried about paying for transportation home, completing online courses without reliable internet access, and staying focused on classes in such an anxious, tumultuous time.

As the pandemic prompts new reckoning about how schools can deliver quality, virtual education, we must also understand that unequal access to students' basic needs — food, housing, transportation, financial assistance and counseling — can have severe consequences on academic performance, especially for students from traditionally marginalized communities.

Mental and emotional health, in particular, have a strong relationship with academic outcomes: the American Council on Education's Healthy Minds Survey found that across all types of college and university campuses, students struggling with mental health were twice as likely to leave without graduating.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, 51 percent of students are experiencing mental health distress. Nine in 10 college and university presidents list the mental health of their students as their top concern, but fewer than two in 10 have invested in more mental or physical health resources. Of the large majority who have yet to invest, less than half say they expect to do so down the road.

Even in normal times, two- and four-year institutions have struggled to appropriately fund counseling centers, despite growing concern from chief student affairs officers. In an analysis of 39 large universities, The Associated Press found the number of students receiving mental health treatment grew by 35 percent between 2014 and 2019, but the number of licensed counselors had yet to catch up. On some campuses, there was only one counselor for every 4,000 students.

Experts predict the pandemic will have long-term consequences for higher education budgets. When colleges have to make hard decisions, services like mental health and well-being programming are typically the first thing on the chopping block.

Given that in-person classes may not fully resume by the fall semester, institutions should embrace virtual mental health tools and resources as one accessible and affordable option to keep supporting students from a distance. These supports have shown to be effective at improving students' mental and emotional health, with some schools introducing their own virtual resources and text hotlines for students in crisis.

All campus staff — not just college counselors — should communicate regularly and compassionately about the mental health resources available. Students should also be encouraged to share these with friends, given that 67 percent of college students will first tell a friend if they are feeling suicidal.

To help alleviate some of the academic stress, Active Minds — a nonprofit organization focused on student mental health — also recommends institutions provide alternative, personalized grading options during the pandemic, such as allowing students to select a pass / fail grade in lieu of letter grades.

Outside organizations can also fill gaps where university funding and capacity fall short. Even before launching the Basic Needs Initiative to support institutions researching how best to holistically support students and develop scalable programs, the ECMC Foundation awarded a grant to Active Minds. That funding provided dedicated support to 15 Minority Serving- and Hispanic Serving Institutions, which have continued to provide individual counseling and crisis consultation via phone or video chat and expanded website resource listings since the outbreak.

And with financial insecurity a significant factor for students' mental health, ECMC's College Access Centers are helping families make proactive and informed decisions about planning and paying for college, working with them to build tailored plans that will minimize financial anxieties down the road.

State and federal lawmakers have already taken steps in ensuring students have access to essential resources during the pandemic. Under the CARES Act, the Department of Education distributed $6 billion to colleges and universities to help students affected by the outbreak with expenses related to health care, housing, food and child care. However, the assistance formula excluded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students, international students and students enrolled solely in online courses prior to the pandemic.

As they put additional funding behind their response, lawmakers must ensure that all educational institutions have the resources needed to not just maintain but expand their basic needs offerings, especially counseling for their most vulnerable students.

From health care to supply chains to higher education, the coronavirus pandemic has exposed cracks in our social framework that leave millions of Americans vulnerable. Two months after campuses started going virtual, one such crack that has become even more apparent is the patchwork of mental and emotional health and other basic needs resources available to college students struggling to focus on their education.

In the weeks and months ahead, schools, lawmakers and nonprofits have a shared responsibility to make access to education and basic needs support more equitable — not just during the pandemic, but for the generations to come.

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Late-deadline scholarships still open to applicants

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

May 18, 2020

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In addition to late-deadline scholarships still available to prospective and current college students, many organizations have extended their typical spring deadlines to the early summer months as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Financial aid experts encourage students to start the scholarship search as early as possible. But for those who got a late start or whose financial situation has changed in recent months, there are some scholarships that are still open.

"Scholarships are always available, though there are fewer deadlines in the summer," Thomas Jaworski, independent educational consultant and founder of Quest College Consulting, wrote in an email. "But some traditional deadlines are not until May 31, or even end of June."

National scholarships with summer deadlines come from a wide range of sources, including the Jared Jeffery Davis Scholarship, a $1,000 scholarship created by an investor that is accepting applications until Aug. 1.

Another example is the David Hudak Memorial Essay Contest for Freethinking Students of Color, which requires an essay of 400 to 600 words on "why you are not religious and its benefits," awards up to $3,500 to the first-place winner. The deadline for this scholarship is July 15, and students may be part of any racial group that is not white.

Many scholarships with late deadlines are designated for students pursuing careers in specific fields, such as the Delaware Nursing Incentive Program, which provides $5,000 per academic year and has a July 15 deadline. Undergraduates and high school seniors applying to this program must have a cumulative unweighted GPA of 2.5 and be enrolled or enrolling in an accredited program leading to certification as a registered nurse or licensed practical nurse, or current RNs who have completed five or more years of state service and are enrolling in a BSN program.

Other field-specific scholarships with summer deadlines include those for aspiring veterinarians, writers and public policy scholars. One resource for finding these scholarships is scholarships.com, which lists scholarships by deadline month.

There are also late-deadline scholarships available to undocumented students, such as the Boundless American Dream Scholarship, which has a June 30 deadline and provides $1,500 each to four students with a vision for how technology can solve real-world problems.

To be eligible for this national scholarship, students must fulfill the requirements for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status or temporary protected status and submit responses to three questions, including "What does the American dream mean to you?"

Undocumented students, including students with DACA status, can also refer to a list of 2020 scholarships organized by deadline that was created by Immigrants Rising, a nonprofit that aims to support undocumented students. They are for prospective and current undergraduates and don't require proof of U.S. citizenship.

Here are a few additional examples of late-deadline national scholarships:

  • DoSomething.org scholarships, amounts vary (May 15-31)
  • Barry J. Nace Pursuit of Justice Scholarship, $3,000 (June 1)
  • Claes Nobel Academic Excellence Scholarship, $5,000 (June 1)
  • Abbott & Fenner Scholarship, $1,000 (June 12)
  • Korean American Scholarship Foundation, $500 to $5,000 (June 30)
  • Good Lawyers / Good People Scholarship, $1,000 (July 1)
  • Villarreal Law Scholarship, $1,000 (July 1)

Scholarships With Extended 2020 Deadlines

This year is far from the typical scholarship season, says James W. Lewis, president of the National Society of High School Scholars. In a normal year, students are usually finalizing most of their scholarship applications by March. Instead, Lewis says there's a sort of "reset" on the entire higher education system this year because of the coronavirus pandemic's disruption to classes – which could present an opportunity for scholarship seekers.

"Don't think of the scholarship search time as being over," Lewis says. "In my mind, the scholarship search has just begun. The old norm was that scholarships are over by now, but this is a new reality, and institutions are having to rethink everything. Part of that is financial aid and scholarships."

Many scholarships with March and April deadlines were extended to mid-May or early June, experts say. Jan Smith, a financial literacy expert at ECMC, a nonprofit organization that assists student loan borrowers, suggests that students seeking extended scholarships look not just to national scholarships but also to local scholarships, which can end up having a big impact.

"Go one step further and search for "Scholarships with Extended Deadlines in (insert city), and you will find local scholarships – which means the applicant pool will be much smaller, and your chances of winning are increased," Smith wrote in an email.

Here are a few examples of national and local scholarships with extended deadlines due to the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • West Virginia's Higher Education Grant (May 15)
  • The Women's College Scholarship Club in New York (June 19)
  • American Heart Challenge (June 30)

There is a chance that due to economic conditions and the disruption of high school and college classes, some scholarships may be canceled. But Jaworski says this would be determined on a case-by-case basis, so students should check with the individual organization.

"Some local scholarships are having difficulty getting the word out to students, who traditionally have found the information in the school's guidance department, so those were canceled early on during the pandemic," Jaworski says. Still, he says, "many scholarships have continued because the money was earmarked for this purpose."

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New federal student debt payments benefits in effect because of COVID-19 pandemic, here's how they work

The following article is from WAFB

May 18, 2020

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Many of us have student loans as we invested in our education years ago. But, if you haven't logged on to look at your student loan activity lately, you might want to now.

Lori Auxier is the Director of Student Success with the Educational Credit Management Corporation. And she said the CARES Act sets up some benefits for student debt repayers.

"The first one and most important one, I think, is there is a zero percent interest rate assigned to all loans owned by the U.S. Department of Education," said Auxier.

That means if you have a federally owned student loan, you are not collecting interest at this time.

"There is nothing a student has to do to claim this interest benefit. It is something that is automatically happening," she said.

This is in effect from March 13 to Sept. 30, 2020. Auxier mentioned another benefit that helps your wallet until late September.

"Students are not required to make a payment during that timeframe," she said.

So, you won't see a bill until October of this year. Again, this applies for loans under the U.S. Department of Education, which can be a direct, federal family education, federal Perkins, or an HEAL loan. If you don't know what kind of loan you have, log into studentaid.gov.

"And they can look at their loan history and determine who their loans are owned by and who they're serviced by," said Auxier.

Now, you can continue to make repayments if you want. But Auxier said that might not be the smartest option if you have an income-driven repayment plan or public service loan forgiveness program.

"Because then they won't be able to maximize their loan forgiveness at the end," she said.

You can reevaluate your payment plans at any time on studentaid.gov.

Auxier said, as we get close to September, her office will be watching the U.S. Department of Education to see if they extend the program. Otherwise, expect a call from your loan servicer around August to remind you repayment plans will resume as they did before the pandemic.

In the meantime, these new student loan repayment rules should help maximize your wallet.

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How To appeal college financial-aid decisions

The following article is from The Wall Street Journal

May 8, 2020

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Financial-aid award letters have arrived or will soon arrive for graduating high-school seniors and returning college students.

This year especially, more families may be experiencing substantially different economic circumstances than when they initially applied for aid. Families whose circumstances have changed—whether or not it is related to coronavirus—have the option to appeal their award.

Here's what those considering an appeal need to do.

Understand what circumstances might warrant an appeal. Generally, most schools won't reconsider a student's aid package unless something major has changed since the initial filing, such as parental loss of a job, a significant drop in income, unusually high out-of-pocket medical expenses or atypical one-time expenses.

But even a family whose offer includes zero dollars in federal grants or institutional aid can appeal. The school might give a student more institutional aid, or it could decide a student is eligible for more federal student aid, including grants or work study, than was initially extended.

Because of the widespread economic impact of the pandemic, a family's change in circumstances could be especially relevant this year given that the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or Fafsa, and the College Board's CSS Profile for institutional aid both rely on data from a family's 2018 tax returns. Even the CSS Profile, which asks for more recent supplemental information on a family's finances, could now be out-of-date.

Schools that offer merit aid may also be willing to sweeten a deal, for recruiting purposes, amid potential coronavirus-induced declines in enrollment, so that is also worth asking about.

Make the appeal as soon as possible. Institutional funds for aid are limited, so don't delay. Remember, this year in particular, competition could be greater, given that more than 33 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits since mid-March.

Families who haven't filled out a FAFSA or CSS Profile for the 2020-21 academic year, thinking perhaps they wouldn't be eligible for aid, and who now would like to be considered, should call their prospective or current school to inquire about the school's process for filing these forms. Be sure to ask how to provide updated information about the family's financial circumstances.

Make the call even if a school's website says the deadline for financial-aid forms has passed, says Erin Powers, director of marketing and communications for the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.

Families have until June 30, 2021, to fill out the Fafsa to be eligible for aid during the 2020-21 academic year. The CSS Profile for the same academic year is active until Feb. 15, 2021, according to a College Board spokeswoman, though schools generally deplete their available funding over time.

Follow the school-specific processes. Each school has its own appeals process. The school's financial-aid website should say what is required. Some schools ask that students provide signed statements explaining what changes have occurred, and any related documentation; others ask students to submit a form called a "report of special circumstances," says Ms. Powers.

It is always a good idea to follow up with a phone call to a school's financial-aid office since websites aren't always up-to-date and families need to be sure they are following the proper procedure, says Scott Gibney, an educational consultant with Gibney College Solutions LLC in Newtown, Conn.

Families should provide whatever information and use whatever forms a school requests. If a free-form letter is allowed, one page is ideal, says Mr. Gibney, who recommends that appeals be fact-based, use bullet points and stay on subject. Don't make demands, he adds, and always be respectful.

Provide relevant supporting documentation. Appealing families may be asked to provide documentation to support their request for additional aid. The type of documentation will vary depending on what has changed about the family's financial circumstances, Ms. Powers says. Supporting documents can include things like bills, signed letters from caregivers or medical providers, court documents, termination letters, proof of unemployment benefits, final pay stubs and out-of-pocket repair costs after a natural disaster, she says.

Get online help. Educate To Career, a nonprofit that assists families with college and career planning, offers an online tool, the College Tuition Negotiator, to help families negotiate more effectively. The free tool helps users compare—by state, major and institution—data such as full-price tuition, average tuition paid, lowest estimated tuition paid, percent of students receiving grants and the average institutional grant size.

The Seldin/Haring-Smith Foundation recently launched SwiftStudent, a free digital tool designed to help college students seeking adjustments to their financial-aid packages. The tool offers templates that address more than a dozen types of appeals. It could be useful for schools that lack a formal appeals process; students should always be sure to follow their school's specific requirements before submitting an appeal.

Don't just wait for an answer. While waiting to hear back on the appeal, which can take weeks, families should explore other ways of paying for college. Many students don't think to apply for scholarships in the latter half of their senior year of high school, thinking these free-money options have all evaporated by spring. But some scholarships have later deadlines.

What's more, many scholarship programs have extended their deadlines to give students more time to submit their applications, says Jan Smith, a financial-literacy expert at Educational Credit Management Corp., a nonprofit provider of free training and resources focused on financial education and college preparedness.

In addition, families could investigate private loans or other borrowing options such as a home-equity line of credit. The student also might consider taking a year off to work, or even choose a lower-cost community college or state school. Since a number of institutions may not be offering in-classroom instruction this fall, choosing a school where students can live at home and save money could be financially beneficial.

Families need to do what's financially prudent for them—even if it means disappointing their student—to avoid burdensome debt.

"If you don't get the money you were hoping for, you may need to make difficult choices," Mr. Gibney says.

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Ascendium Education Solutions to utilize ECMC software platform

April 8, 2020

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Madison, WI—Ascendium Education Group, Inc. on behalf of its guaranty agency affiliate Ascendium Education Solutions (AES) announced today that it has entered into an agreement with Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECMC) to utilize ECMC's technology platform in a Software as a Service (SaaS) model to assist borrowers with Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP) loans. AES's FFELP guaranty portfolio will be converted to ECMC's technology platform throughout the remainder of 2020. AES remains an independent guaranty agency managing business operations for its FFELP portfolio and will start using the new technology on Feb. 1, 2021.

"After a significant and comprehensive review of all options, we chose to leverage ECMC's SaaS solution, which will enable us to continue to provide stellar service to our borrowers, now and into the future," said Jeff Crosby, president and chief executive officer of AES.

"We are excited about this partnership, which expands our ability to serve the FFELP industry while increasing our capacity to fulfill our mission of helping students succeed," said Jan Hines, president and chief executive officer of ECMC.

About Ascendium Education Group, Inc.
Ascendium Education Group Inc. and its affiliates has been helping people fulfill their potential through the transformative power of education for over half a century. We promote postsecondary student success in a variety of ways: We're one of the nation's biggest higher education philanthropies, awarding tens of millions of dollars per year in grants aimed at helping more low-income students, students of color and first-generation students complete postsecondary degrees and credentials. We help student loan borrowers avoid and recover from the devastating impact of default. And we develop and market products and services that help colleges better support their students' financial well-being. Visit www.ascendiumeducation.org for more information.

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Find local scholarships in your own backyard

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

March 30, 2020

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While a student's first instinct may be to aim for high-dollar, national college scholarships, experts say this may turn him or her into a "little fish in a big pond." Instead, local scholarships may often offer less competition and a greater chance for success.

Some national scholarships offer big awards, like the National Merit Scholarship, which gives students $2,500, or the Elk National Foundation Most Valuable Student Scholarship, which provides a small number of students with scholarships of up to $50,000 over four years.

But national scholarships aren't always significantly higher in value than local scholarships, experts note.

The difference in award amount between local and national scholarships is "usually non-existent," Thomas Jaworski, independent educational consultant and founder of Quest College Consulting, wrote in an email. "I find that most local scholarships are as competitive monetarily ($500-1500) with national scholarships ($1000-2000), with better odds to win."

Students who aim to win multiple local scholarships can end up significantly outpacing those who apply only for highly competitive national scholarships, some experts say.

Here are steps students can take to find and win local scholarships:

  • Ask guidance counselors about local scholarships.
  • Research past local scholarships.
  • Use existing community connections.
  • Apply for local scholarships strategically.
  • Ask Guidance Counselors About Local Scholarships.

A student's school can be a wealth of information and a great jumping-off point in the search for local scholarship dollars.

"The absolute first place to visit for local scholarships is your school counselor's office or the school's website," Jan Smith, a financial literacy expert at ECMC, a nonprofit organization that assists student loan borrowers, wrote in an email. "Many local businesses truly want to help out students in their hometown and will approach the school counselor for getting the word out about their scholarship."

Smith says guidance counselors often create a space in their office dedicated to scholarships, complete with a list of scholarships and deadlines.

Winning scholarships can take significant research and time.

Jean O'Toole, a scholarship strategist and author of "Scholarship Strategies: Finding and Winning the Money You Need," says one trick to doing this efficiently is to research past local scholarships and winners.

"Contact the school's guidance office and ask to be emailed the senior awards night program from the previous year. You can get a list in advance of all of the local companies and organizations that are giving away money. Then the next question is who won last year, why did they win and who decides?"

Once a student identifies last year's local businesses that may be offering college scholarships, she says it's time to determine who selects the scholarship winner – whether a school staff member or company employee – and reach out to that decision-maker.

Places of worship, the local chamber of commerce and local businesses are examples of where a student might start in their search for community-based scholarships.

By tapping into organizations and businesses where students already have connections, experts say, students may increase their chances of getting a scholarship. A parent's employer, for example, may offer an annual college scholarship.

Apply for Local Scholarships Strategically
Students should start with the most-local scholarships – like those open only to students attending a specific high school or in a certain club – before slowly expanding the search and widening the net, Jaworski says.

"Most public schools have scholarships from booster clubs, sports teams, alums, etc," Jaworski wrote. "Then to look in their immediate local community (Rotary Clubs, Chamber of Commerce, Women's Club), slowly expanding the boundaries, surrounding communities, county, state, etc. The more local the scholarship, the better the percentages are to 'win' the scholarship because there are less students who qualify, and most qualifiers do not apply."

While some experts emphasize local scholarships, they say applying for a mixture of national and local scholarships is the best strategy.

"We also tend to tell students to check for scholarships at large national retail chains or other known businesses, but it might make more sense to apply for local businesses (in addition), such as mom and pop restaurants, locally owned auto services or bookstores, local churches and other places or clubs where students have a local connection," Smith wrote. "In my hometown, the local Ruritan club offers scholarships for seniors and often the amount has been awarded to seven applicants for $1,000 each."

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Student aid secret: even high-income families can qualify

The following article is from CNBC

February 21, 2020

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As college costs soar, financial aid can make all the difference.

Still, many families wrongfully assume they won't qualify and don't even bother to apply.

Each year, more than 1.7 million private scholarships and fellowships are awarded, worth more than $7.4 billion. Your family's income doesn't have to stand in the way.

In fact, qualifying for such aid is often not based on income at all.

Merit aid
For starters, there are many different types of merit scholarships available for athletes, minorities, and students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs. There's also aid for community service volunteers or grants based on leadership skills, musical ability or religious affiliation, according to James Lewis, co-founder of the National Association of High School Scholars, or NSHSS, based in Atlanta.

And more obscure offerings are out there to help cover the costs. For example, incoming freshmen who meet certain height requirements could be eligible for a scholarship from the Tall Clubs International Foundation. (Here are a few more unusual scholarships currently available.)

Lewis advises students to look for scholarships locally, particularly from organizations in their community, where the odds of nabbing an award are better than national competitions.

"Search your network," he said, including "high school, honor societies, alumni networks, civic groups, employers and houses of worship."

"Make Google your best friend."

Free search sites, such as Tuition Funding Sources, can help students find this most desirable kind of assistance — money that does not have to be repaid.

Some families are catching on. This year, scholarships and grants were the single most-used resource to pay for an undergraduate's college bill, according to the most recent report by education lender Sallie Mae.

Need-based aid
Aside from merit aid, even high-income families could still qualify for need-based assistance.

"That's a mistake, to assume you are ineligible," said Kalman Chany, a financial aid consultant and author of the Princeton Review's "Paying for College."

For example, a school may not consider a non-custodial parent's income, even if it exceeds $400,000 or $500,000, Chany said. "If you are divorced and the non-custodial parent, they may only look at the other parent's information."

There's also more to determining a student's aid than income and savings alone, such as the school's cost of attendance or the number of college-age siblings.

"Some schools will give you need-based money even if you don't demonstrate need because they are getting price resistance," Chany said.

And if your family has two children enrolled in college, that's like dividing the parent's income in half, he added.

File the FAFSA
To access any of that assistance, students must file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid form, which serves as the gateway to all federal money including loans, work-study and grants.

High school graduates in 2017 missed out on $2.3 billion in federal grants because they didn't fill out the FAFSA at all, according to an analysis by personal finance website NerdWallet.

Among those who didn't apply, most said it was because they didn't think they would qualify.

Jennifer Satalino, a financial aid expert with Educational Credit Management Corp., a nonprofit dedicated to helping student borrowers, advises all students to submit the paperwork. "It can really pay off," she said.

"Students and parents will always be eligible for certain types of financial aid."

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Here's how to break down your college financial aid award letter

The following article is from CNBC

February 12, 2020

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Getting into college is one thing. Figuring out how to pay for it is another.

Price has become a growing consideration among students and parents. Now, financial concerns govern decision-making for nearly 8 in 10 families, according to education lender Sallie Mae, outweighing even academics when choosing a school.

At the same time, most students and their parents pay only a fraction of the total tab, even as college costs continue to rise.

In addition to income and savings, more than 8 in 10 families tap scholarships and grants — money that does not have to be repaid — to help cover costs. More than half of families borrow, with both parents and students taking out loans, Sallie Mae found. (See Sallie Mae's chart below.)

CNBC

That's why so much hinges on the financial aid award letter. However, it can be difficult to understand what that missive means to your bottom line.

To get a better sense of what you'll pay out of pocket for higher education, here are the do's and don'ts to deciphering college aid.

Don't compare apples to oranges

For starters, while it may seem obvious, some schools just cost more than others. Therefore, what may look like the largest offer might not be the best.

"One school might give you $5,000 more grant aid but their cost could be $8,000 more," said Kalman Chany, a financial aid consultant and author of the Princeton Review's "Paying for College."

Further, not all colleges include both direct and indirect expenses in the total "cost of attendance," or COA, said Jennifer Satalino, a financial aid expert with Educational Credit Management Corp., a nonprofit dedicated to helping student borrowers.

While most schools outline baseline tuition and fees, some might not include "indirect expenses" such as textbooks, meals and transportation. For each school, list out all the costs, including personal expenses, Satalino said, before deducting grants or scholarships.

"You have to look at the net net," Chany said.

Do differentiate free vs. borrowed money

In most award letters, there are often several financial aid options, including grants, scholarships, work-study opportunities and student loans.

If you're having trouble telling the difference between gift aid and loans that will need to be repaid, look for terms like "grant," "scholarship" and "fellowship." Anything else is most likely a loan, Satalino said.

"If you have questions, ask — don't make assumptions," she added.

Even with gift aid, there may be strings attached, such as whether a grant is renewable for all four years or a minimum grade point average that must be maintained. A school that seems more generous initially might offer less funding down the road, Chany said.

If student loans are listed, they will appear to reduce the total cost of attendance. But the reality is that loans always need to be repaid — plus interest.

Don't forget about interest

Studies show that more than half of millennials take on student loans without knowing the interest rate or what their monthly payments will be.

Before borrowing a dime, check whether the financial aid offer includes direct loans, which are need-based and interest-free while a student is in school, or unsubsidized loans, which accrue interest from the outset. "Subsidized is always better," Chany said.

Still, beyond differentiating between subsidized and unsubsidized loans, award letters rarely provide information about interest rates and repayment options.

If you'll need loans to pay for college, Satalino advises that you find out the full costs of your options and then borrow only what is absolutely necessary.

Don't take everything that's offered

To that end, schools will often offer more financial aid than you may need.

As a general rule of thumb, "don't borrow any more than you estimate your first-year earnings will be" once you graduate, Satalino said.

Many people make the mistake of borrowing too much and using student loans to pay for all their expenses, and then they struggle to repay what they owe, she cautioned.

"Only take the amount of financial aid necessary to get through college," Satalino said.

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Explore Career and Technical Education

Learn more about CTE career options and what it means to students.

February 3, 2020

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ECMC dispels financial aid myths as college-bound students receive award letters

February is financial aid awareness month

January 30, 2020

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Minneapolis, MN (January 30, 2020)—February is Financial Aid Awareness Month and also a time when many college-bound students will be receiving award letters outlining financial aid packages from prospective colleges. Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECMC) is dispelling myths for students and families who may need assistance navigating this process.

"Selecting a college is one of the largest financial commitments a person will make in their lifetime," said Paula Craw, vice president of student success and outreach at ECMC. "We want to do all we can to ensure students and families understand the information they receive and make informed decisions."

ECMC, which provides free training and resources focused on financial literacy and college preparedness, is providing insight for students and families to ensure they understand the various types of financial aid available.

Myth #1: My financial aid award letter will show me a clear picture of college costs.
Fact: The total costs of college aren't always clear from the outset. In financial aid award letters, not all colleges include both direct and indirect expenses in the total "Cost of Attendance" (COA). While most schools outline baseline tuition and fees, some might not include "indirect expenses" like room and board, textbooks, meals and transportation. Not knowing how much a full year of college will cost you makes it difficult to put an aid letter in context.

Myth #2: Loans and grants are easily discernible.
Fact: In most award letters, schools outline financial aid options such as grants, scholarships, work-study opportunities and student loans. If student loans are listed, they will appear to reduce the total cost of attendance. But the reality is that loans always need to be repaid—with interest. If you're having trouble telling the difference between gift aid and loans that will need to be repaid, look for terms like "grant," "scholarship" and "fellowship." Anything else is most likely a loan.

Myth #3: Interest on student loans will be included in my financial aid award letter.
Fact: Reports show more than half of millennials take on student loans without understanding what their monthly payments will be—and without understanding interest. However, award letters rarely provide information about interest rates and loan repayment options. If you'll need loans to pay for college, make sure you understand the full costs of your options and borrow only what is absolutely necessary.

Myth #4: I need to take out the full amount of money I'm offered in my financial aid letter.
Fact: Only take the amount of financial aid necessary to get through college. Many people make the mistake of borrowing too much and using student loans to pay for all their expenses, and they struggle to repay what they owe.

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

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

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ECMC Group introduces ECMC Education

New name reflects evolution of nonprofit provider of career and technical education

January 7, 2020

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MINNEAPOLIS—ECMC Group today announced that Zenith Education Group will become ECMC Education. The name change signifies an enhanced collaboration across the ECMC Group family of companies as well as future growth opportunities to support its mission of helping students succeed.

"Our work in the postsecondary education space, particularly in career and technical education, has become extremely robust within the various entities across our organization," said Jeremy Wheaton, president and CEO of ECMC Group. "Given our overall focus, it made sense to change the name to better reflect those synergies."

Zenith Education Group was formed when ECMC Group acquired a number of Corinthian College campuses in 2015, transitioning the schools to nonprofit and enhancing the program offerings to result in better student outcomes. The effort enabled more than 30,000 students to continue their education and resulted in savings for American taxpayers of an estimated $435 million in potential closed school losses. ECMC Group is the parent company to Educational Credit Management Corporation (ECMC) and ECMC Foundation, as well as ECMC Education.

ECMC Education provides oversight and guidance to three reimagined, innovative career and technical schools under the brand of Altierus Career College, where students receive a blended, hands-on and interactive educational experience with holistic support services throughout the student journey, such as integrated professional skills development and emergency financial resources. ECMC Education is also focused on expanding its delivery of educational solutions through employer-driven upskilling programs and technology-enabled learning in innovative school formats.

"We are extremely proud of the work being done on our campuses, particularly the impressive student outcomes that have been achieved," said Todd Steele, president of ECMC Education. "While we remain committed to our original goals of increasing affordability and connecting our students to well-paying careers, we also are extremely focused on increasing educational access by deepening our relationships with business owners, policymakers and community-based organizations so that together we can pioneer new educational delivery methods that benefit our students, their employers and the communities at large."

About ECMC Education
ECMC Education is a nonprofit provider of educational solutions rooted in innovation, employer collaboration and industry stewardship to generate superior learner outcomes. The organization operates schools under the Altierus Career College brand and offers a range of training solutions designed to help learners achieve their educational goals as well as assist employers in solving talent and skill gaps.

About ECMC Group
ECMC Group is a nonprofit corporation with a mission to help students succeed. Headquartered in Minneapolis, ECMC Group and its family of companies provide financial tools and services, nonprofit career education and funding for innovative programs to help students achieve their academic and professional goals. For more information, visit www.ecmcgroup.org.

About ECMC Foundation
ECMC Foundation is a Los Angeles-based, nationally focused foundation whose mission is to inspire and to facilitate improvements that affect educational outcomes—especially among underserved populations—through evidence-based innovation. It is one of several affiliates under the ECMC Group enterprise based in Minneapolis. ECMC Foundation makes investments in two focus areas: College Success and Career Readiness; and uses a spectrum of funding structures, including strategic grantmaking and program-related investments, to invest in both nonprofit and for-profit ventures. Working with grantees, partners and peers, ECMC Foundation's vision is for all learners to unlock their fullest potential. Learn more about ECMC Foundation by visiting www.ecmcfoundation.org and ECMC Group by visiting www.ecmcgroup.org.

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