Keeping the Promise: New Tools for a Better-Than-Ever Aid Experience

This was cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom

Personalized Repayment Simulation

Just a couple months ago, I promised to keep you updated about all the ways Federal Student Aid (FSA) is making your experience with us better. I’m excited to share that today we launched a few incredibly beneficial tools that make it easier than ever to understand the aid you’ve received and navigate your repayment options.

You’ll see our first enhancement the moment you log in to our website; now, you’ll see a whole lot more detail on your student aid dashboard. We’re collectively calling this information Aid Summary. It gives you much more information about the grants and loans you’ve received and shows your remaining grant and loan eligibility. This may seem like a lot of information at first, but take a closer look. I think you’ll find the Aid Summary to be a go-to tool to help you manage your aid while you’re enrolled and after you leave school.

If you’re a borrower already making payments on your loans, Aid Summary also shows you how much progress you’ve made toward paying off your debt. Another new feature shows borrowers who have submitted an Employment Certification Form (ECF) the progress they’ve made toward earning Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). We know that regularly submitting an ECF is the best way to stay on track for PSLF, and we want to ensure you have access to information about your eligibility and number of qualifying payments. This is just one step that we’re taking this year to arm you with better information.

Along those lines, we’ve also built a brand-new tool that I think you’ll really like. See, I came from the Air Force, where we use flight simulators to help our pilots navigate the skies. Now, FSA has Loan Simulator, which will help you chart your path through successful loan repayment! We have lots of  repayment plans to choose from, and we realize it can be hard to figure out which one best fits your financial situation and goals. That’s why we’ve built a feature that lets you specify if you want to pay down your loans as quickly as possible, get the lowest possible monthly payment, or reduce the interest that you’ll pay in the long run. You can change your preferences at any time to see how your recommended plan changes, and we’ll even give you direct links to the forms that you need to access certain plans.

One of our goals is to make it possible for you to make student loan payments on StudentAid.gov, our website. To learn the best way to make that happen, we’re launching a new pilot. Starting today, about seven million customers will be able to Make a Payment from their dashboard. If your loan servicer is Nelnet or Great Lakes, you can now make a regular monthly payment through StudentAid.gov on your computer or mobile device instead of logging in to your servicer’s website. Over the course of this year, we’ll build out additional functionality in the Make a Payment pilot, and eventually, all federally managed loan borrowers will be able to pay their balances through StudentAid.gov.

Finally, we’re launching a collection of resource articles on StudentAid.gov. These articles will give you—our students, parents, and borrowers—the information you need to successfully apply for and manage your federal student aid.

I can’t wait for you to check out all of these new features. I look forward to updating you again in the next couple of months, when I’ll introduce you to a new step you’ll take when you want to take out more loans: The Annual Student Loan Acknowledgement. Until then, I hope you take advantage of all these new features on StudentAid.gov.

Mark Brown is Federal Student Aid’s Chief Operating Officer

Students Share College Completion Journeys

This was crossposted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom

Students from a variety of socio-economic and racial backgrounds discussed the idea of belonging during this Student Voices Session. (Joshua Hoover/U.S. Department of Education)

Students from a variety of socio-economic and racial backgrounds discussed the idea of belonging during this Student Voices Session. (Joshua Hoover/U.S. Department of Education)

“If you feel like you belong, you can achieve anything.”

This was the overarching sentiment expressed by many students during the latest Student Voices session, which focused on college completion at Minority Serving Institutions.

Both Secretary John King and Under Secretary Ted Mitchell were on hand to listen and engage students from a variety of socio-economic and racial backgrounds around the idea of belonging.

Many students present expressed a concern about the general lack of support from school counselors and said this made them feel as though they didn’t belong at college.

Other students said it was one unique relationship – whether with a teacher or professor – that enabled them to attend and complete college because this individual took the time to listen, work alongside them and help them navigate the system.

One Native student said she felt misunderstood and taken advantage of because her high school counselor took it for granted that she would be able to fill out the online FAFSA application without realizing that she lacked access to resources such as wi-fi.

As a DACA student myself at this session, I recalled how college personnel sent me to one office after another with disjointed pieces of advice when I was attempting to find resources to pay my tuition.

Hearing these concerns about the need to improve school and college advising, Secretary King emphasized how the Department of Education is trying to share best practices with universities to better support undocumented students. He also said that ED is attempting to increase funding to prepare more school counselors.

Evan Sanchez, another undergraduate at the session, explained that he thinks college personnel should alter their advising schedules to better meet the needs of working or non-traditional students who are juggling multiple responsibilities.

Joanna DeJesus, a CUNY Macaulay Honors College student, recommended more purposeful communication across departments so that students do not receive conflicting advice.

Finally, the students agreed on the importance of universities to exert greater efforts in aiding students beyond college, such as assisting with job placements and providing financial literacy guidance.

The session itself, which was only supposed to last 30 minutes, continued for more than an hour. The fact that Secretary King stayed to listen to everyone’s stories demonstrated how much he valued our perspectives and diverse experiences. It is not everyday that there are Native, Asian-origin undocumented, Black, and Latina and Latino students engaging in the same conversation.

I think it’s important to recognize that educational policy decisions cannot be made without student input since it directly affects us. Secretary King ensured that our voices were not only heard, but that we felt like belonged in such a space to be able to share our personal journeys and recommendations.

Syeda Raza is an E3! Ambassador at the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

This session was a part of the ongoing “Student Voices” series at the Department through which students engage with senior staff members to help develop recommendations on current and future education programs and policies.

The Pathway to Success at King/Drew Magnet High School

This is cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom.

King/Drew Magnet High School isn’t just preparing its students for graduation; it’s preparing them for life.

The school may be located in one of the most disadvantaged parts of Los Angeles, California, but its students are reaching for the highest levels in education – and they are succeeding. Students at King/Drew not only gradate in high numbers, fully 90% of those who graduate go on to attend college, including many of the country’s top schools, and they receive millions of dollars in merit-based scholarships and university grants.

“All students should be prepared for college and for careers because they should have all options open to them,” says English Teacher Latosha Guy. Teachers at King/Drew are preparing their students for the future by meeting their full range of needs, from career internships and fairs to after-school health and educational tutoring.

Teachers and students across the country are working together to focus on college and career readiness by setting and reaching higher standards inside and outside of the classroom. Teachers are helping their students succeed by nurturing and building their confidence along the way. As student Symmon-e Scott puts it, “High expectations make me nervous, but I know I can do it if I really put my mind to it.”

In this new video, see how teachers are helping students overcome challenges in the community to succeed at school and in life. Improving Education: A View from King/Drew Magnet High School shows how students truly believe that “there is no other pathway that will bring you success like education.”

We will continue highlighting extraordinary educators doing remarkable things in classrooms nationwide in our video series. To learn more, visit our Partners in Progress page.