The pilot will settle the student debt and release the blocked credits

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When a student leaves college prematurely without paying their account balance, the institution typically withholds the student’s transcript, resulting in blocked credits that may prevent the student from returning to school later or from stopping. transfer it to another college. Student debt analysts and higher education advocates have long argued that the practice has a huge personal impact on students, especially the most disadvantaged. Today, Ithaka S + R, a higher education consultancy, launched a pilot program that aims to solve the twin problem of blocked loans and unpaid debts.

The one-of-a-kind plan, announced last month, will allow students with stranded credits at one of eight Northeastern Ohio institutions to pay their bills – allowing for some debt relief – and see their transcripts published as long as they re-enroll in one of the other schools in the consortium. This could benefit 60,000 students, Ithaka S + R said.

The idea arose out of research the company conducted on students who dropped out or took time off and couldn’t return to school because unpaid debts froze their transcripts, said Martin Kurzweil. , director of the education transformation program at Ithaka S + R. The study showed that the financial repercussions were considerable: students with blocked credits had to pay collection fees of up to 30% and federal financial aid fees of up to thousands of dollars. Unpaid debts and collection costs have remained on a student’s credit report, hampering their ability, for example, to secure a mortgage loan for decades.

Kurzweil noted that some institutions offer blocked credit programs that are “incomplete” because they allow returning students to re-enroll only at the same institution. Yet the data shows that the vast majority of students who stop enrolling again at a different institution. And even in states that prohibit the withholding of transcripts, such as California, the student debt problem is not always addressed, creating another barrier to releasing frozen credits, Kurzweil said.

“We realized there was an opportunity to do something where we could overcome a collective action problem,” Kurzweil said. “The re-enrollment of students benefits students and institutions. “

The pilot program aims to tackle any issues with blocked credits, Kurzweil said. It includes ‘proactive’ outreach from the eight institutions, Ithaka S + R and regional community organizations to help eligible students find appropriate re-enrollment at one of the eight institutions: Cleveland State University, Cuyahoga Community College, Kent State University, Lakeland Community College, Lorain County Community College, Stark State College, Akron University, and Youngstown State University.

Students who enroll at a different institution than the one they started at periodically reimburse a fraction of the money they owe, Kurzweil said, which is mutually beneficial. The student pays less, but even a nominal payment also helps the institution, as long as the rate is higher than the expected return from collections, which is only about seven cents to the dollar in Ohio, Kurzweil said. .

Specific details of the program will be worked out over the next few months, Kurzweil said, including how much debt to write off, what happens to the remaining debt, and how students qualify for the program. The goal is to start educating students this spring and start re-enrolling them in fall 2022.

According to Ithaka S + R research, 95% of institutions withhold transcripts when students have a balance, and an estimated 6.6 million students nationwide have blocked credits. Students with stranded credits owe their old institutions an estimated $ 15.4 billion, Ithaka S + R found, with the average balance ranging from $ 631 for community college students to $ 4,400 for students at research universities. .

In Ohio, 222,000 people have blocked credits, including 60,000 in northeastern Ohio, research shows. If just 10 percent of those 60,000 people re-enroll in one of the eight participating schools, it could earn those institutions $ 41 million in annual tuition income.

Kurzweil noted that the problem of frozen credits and withheld transcripts disproportionately affects black, Latin, Indigenous and low-income students. Since transcripts are often a requirement for employment, blocked credits can affect students’ employment status and limit their accommodation options. Debt accumulated by institutions can also affect student credit scores.

“In terms of transcripts, students who wish to continue their education are not able to apply their previously earned credits to continue their education and have to start over,” Kurzweil said. “And that means they’re duplicating the lessons, which wastes money, wastes time and is very demotivating.

David Jewell, CFO of Cleveland State University, said his institution was drawn to the pilot program as an extension of Cleveland State’s Reconnect to College program, which is designed to re-enroll students who have already dropped out. university by giving them help, academic support and advice on how to re-enroll.

The Reconnect to College program includes a Project Restart Debt Relief Program, which allows Cleveland State students with a GPA of 2.0 or higher to request debt relief for previous semesters by accepting a set of requirements, including completing all courses with good academic results. , by meeting regularly with a designated pedagogical advisor and by paying for the entire term in progress.

“How do we begin to help students with stuck credit return to our classrooms and enter the workforce with a college degree, whether it’s a community college or a four-year public university?” Jewel said. “This is the impetus for Cleveland State’s initial program, Project Re-start, and this pilot program only further expands that line of thinking.”

Marisa Vernon White, vice president of enrollment management and student services at Lorain County Community College, said the initiative is particularly timely to help students who have had to quit or leave college during the pandemic for reasons employment or childcare.

“It’s something bigger than the LCCC,” said Vernon White. “It’s really a part of this regional work and this statewide work to raise the education levels of all the families we serve in the state and here in our region.”

Stephanie Sutton, vice president of enrollment management at Stark State College, said Stark State already has a blocked credit program within the college called the Restart My College Career program, which gives students with an unpaid balance chance to clear their account, thereby reducing all or some of their previous balances. The Ithaka S + R pilot program allows Stark State to expand its reach, Sutton said.

“We have students who could come to us and have a lot of transfer credits and can’t get their transcript,” said Sutton. “So that really prevents them from going to college because it’s mandatory that we have their previous transcripts. It really is just an opportunity to help the students.

Jewell of Cleveland State said one of the benefits of the pilot program is that it will give the eight institutions a better insight into the supports students with stranded credits need, such as transportation, child care children or blended and distance learning options.

“Students with stranded credits are an important subset of our population, and if we can get a better understanding and data on this topic as eight institutions collectively, this is where the real value lies and why. I think this program cannot fail, ”Jewell said. .

Vernon White of Lorain County CC believes the pilot program may abolish the perception that those who have left cannot return to complete their education and graduate.

“To see more adult learners and those who left higher education come back and work towards any diploma, certificate or diploma that is going to be meaningful to them in this workforce is the dream,” said Vernon White.

Dear Hendricks, senior vice-president at Akron University, hopes the program will help more students get on the right track and graduate, even if not at his institution.

“Succeeding on our campus could mean that students who stopped by Akron University go elsewhere,” Hendricks said. “So I think what a successful program looks like is that our institutions figure out how to make this project work. “

Kurzweil wants the pilot program to expand to other parts of Ohio and other states as well. Within Ohio, one option is to form other regional groupings of institutions to share a frozen credit program, he said; another possibility is to turn the pilot into a statewide agreement for all Ohio institutions. It might work in other states as well, Kurzweil said, but he noted that the Ohio program could not be replicated identically because each state has its own set of laws regarding transcript retention.

“It’s not like you can just take all the details of the program and apply them elsewhere and that would work,” Kurzweil said. “[But] I think you can take the concept and apply it almost anywhere else, and you can find a way to make it work.


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