By Sam P.K. Collins
As the summer break slowly comes to an end, incoming college freshmen across the U.S. continue to tie up loose ends before fall classes start – a process that includes confirming that scholarship dollars have entered their student accounts and determining other means of closing funding gaps.
Exploring one’s options during this time of the year, and any other for that matter, can often induce stress. In the spirit of filling knowledge gaps, the DC Department of Insurance, Securities & Banking (DISB) launched “Bright Future Summer Series” to help incoming college students and their families understand important aspects of the college experience.
On Thursday, July 28, nearly two dozen people either tuned into or attended a workshop centered on financial aid. This workshop preceded two upcoming events about post-COVID-19 enrollment requirements and strategies for student success.
Some participants, like District resident Kim Bright, also participated in a one-on-one counseling session at DISB’s Northeast office. This session, which took place an hour before the financial aid workshop, allowed Bright to explore methods of ensuring her godchild, an incoming Howard University student, takes out a low amount in student loans over the course of her college career.
“I’ve been to college so I understand the process. I know how long it took me to pay off my student loans but opportunities are harder now,” Bright said. “We’re in a digital world so it’s about engaging others. I want to expose my godchild to [connect with] people who can help them.”
The Federal Reserve estimates the average student loan debt amount at $32,731. That’s often connected to aspects of the college experience that, depending on the student, may not be covered in financial aid packages with examples that include housing and books.
With the Biden administration’s student loan moratorium soon expiring, people in various professions, particularly the education and nonprofit sectors, have been encouraged to apply for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.
Over the last couple of years, the Biden administration has forgiven loans for veterans and those who matriculated at for-profit colleges, among other groups. Meanwhile, grassroots organizers continue to agitate for a radical loan forgiveness program that affects a wider range of borrowers. High school students also consider other paths of post-secondary education including trades and certifications.
DISB launched its “Bright Future Summer Series” in collaboration with the Office of the State Superintendent of Education and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Last Thursday, Larry Davis of the Educational Opportunities Center explained how to connect scholarship dollars to a financial aid package, utilizing refunds to lessen financial burden from semester to semester, and how to cautiously approach Parent PLUS and private loans. He rooted the presentation in a timeline that started with the attainment of an award letter and emphasized the importance of submitting financial documents.
DISB hosts programs throughout the academic year that align with enrollment deadlines. In the fall, prospective college students learn how to apply to college and financial aid. Another program during Black History Month gets them on the path to college acceptance and scholarships. In situations where students want to explore trades, DISB also has resources in place to connect them with District programs they can enter at a greatly-reduced fee.
As DISB’s student loan ombudsman, Ricardo Jefferson, explained, the focus has become securing an affordable education for young people and making sure they’ve considered all of the factors in their postsecondary education to get the maximum return on their investment.
“For first-generation college students, these things can be vexing. People will start running to their financial aid office in two weeks and customer service people will be tired and irritable,” Jefferson said.
“People who aren’t terribly familiar with the process need assurances. They’re the customers but some colleges and universities don’t have the resources to provide that level of hand holding. [In these events], they can get their answers and we can let them know about additional resources,” he said.