The State of Student Loan Debt

As 2017 comes to a close, recaps of our eventful year are popping up in the media, social media feeds, and end-of-year reports. News stories have come and gone from our short-term memory, but the student loan debt crisis has perpetually remained top-of-mind. It won’t fade away anytime soon considering at least $1.3 trillion is owed by 44 million borrowers, according to a Forbes piece from February 2017.

The picture is particularly tough for minorities when digging deeper. “In 2013, 42 percent of African American families had student loans, compared to 28 percent of white families, according to the Urban Institute” (from a piece in The Atlantic).

The Brookings Institution reported in 2016 that “black borrowers remain more than three times as likely to default within four years as white borrowers (7.6 percent versus 2.4 percent). Hispanic borrowers, despite having about the same level of debt as white graduates, are more than twice as likely to default (5.7 percent).”

Repayment plans are available for loans offered through the federal government, but some borrowers aren’t always aware of them. However, short-term relief can turn into a long-term financial burden. To share an anecdote from my own experience, an income-based repayment plan sets a lower monthly payment than the 10-year standard repayment plan, but that prolongs the life of the loan and in turn the amount of interest paid.

Without question, students of all backgrounds face challenges in a landscape of rising costs of attendance and tightening budgets, but minority students are particularly impacted.

No need to make a prediction for 2018 – with certainty, the student loan debt crisis will remain top of mind for students and all of us who counsel them.

One last note: Now more than ever, scholarships are extremely valuable for students seeking funding for their education. The Charles L. Warren Memorial Heritage Scholarship is awarded by the Ohio Association for College Admission Counseling each year to outstanding high school seniors. The scholarship is a one-time $1,500 award, and eligible students may apply here: The deadline to apply is January 19, 2018.

Ryan Collins is an admission counselor at Baldwin Wallace University.


NACAC 2017: A Recap

Make no mistake: diversity and inclusion were the most-discussed topics at NACAC 2017 in Boston. The opening keynote, helmed by Dr. Shaun Harper of the University of Southern California, burned four words into my mind: “This, too, is racism.” His speech, before thousands of professionals, gave me chills as he spilled truth after truth. Inside Higher Ed wrote an excellent recap. I am unable to match his words and the passion with which he spoke them, but I’d like to highlight two concepts he touched upon:

  1. He explained how students of color are routinely underserved by the people who should be looking out for them in their high schools. Dr. Harper spoke of undermatching and how minority students are routinely discouraged by authority figures from applying to top colleges or universities.
  2. Harper challenged admission offices to become more inclusive in their hiring and to be reflective of prospective students.

If you’d like to follow Dr. Harper on Twitter, I recommend it.

Other sessions at the conference focused very much on how institutions can permanently enshrine a commitment to diversity within their campus climate. An emphasis was made on needing to build strategic plans. Senior leaders challenged their peers to take on diversity and inclusion as one of their personal burdens to bear – to use the privilege they may have in society to assist people who enjoy less privilege.

One senior leader noted that this approach has resulted in tangible results for her university’s Muslim students: hosting relevant programs during Ramadan, installing reflection rooms for prayer, and training student tour guides to be culturally fluent.

In terms that may seem stark, it was also pointed out that diversity and inclusion make good business sense. Enrollment growth and retention can follow a smart strategic plan.

David Burge, who took over as president of NACAC at the conference, immediately used his position to stand up for what’s right. Here is a short blurb from a NACAC press release:

In his first speech as NACAC’s top elected leader, Burge challenged his colleagues to promote opportunity for all individuals. He also applauded the association’s recent advocacy work, including efforts made on behalf of undocumented students.”

“We oppose ending Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in the strongest possible terms,” Burge said, earning roaring applause from attendees at NACAC’s Annual Membership Meeting. “We will be champions for these students, supporting legislation and appropriate legal action at every turn.”

Next year’s conference will take place in Salt Lake City.


Ryan Collins is an admission counselor at Baldwin Wallace University.

DACA and Higher Education

It’s official: President Trump plans to end the DACA program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. DACA protected over 800,000 young people from deportation who were brought to the United States illegally as children.

DACA isn’t going away overnight. President Trump gave Congress a six-month deadline to pass related legislation before the program is phased out. In a tweet this week, he noted he would “revisit this issue” if necessary.

Many people who DACA impacted are or were college students in the United States, and the world of higher education has played close attention to the issue. Many institutions in Ohio, both public and private, took a stand to support these undocumented students after President Trump’s announcement.

The news was met with condemnation from NACAC. Former president Barack Obama, who created DACA, also condemned the action.

Inside Higher Ed has written an excellent, in-depth article explaining the recent news.


By: Ryan Collins

Admission Counselor

Baldwin Wallace University

10 Things I Learned at the 2017 Summer Institute

The Ohio Association for College Admission Counseling (OACAC) hosted its Annual Summer Institute for its newest admissions professionals and high school counselors this past week at Bowling Green State University (BGSU). Through mentor group discussions, panels, and presentations, I learned everything I needed to know (and more) to conquer the upcoming travel season, and the rest of my first year as an admissions counselor. Here are the top 10 things I learned at the 2017 Summer Institute (SI):

10) Our job, as admissions professionals and high school counselors, is to change lives

This motto was introduced to the SI attendees within the first sixty seconds of the first featured speaker’s address. Van Wright, Assistant to the Vice Provost for Strategic Enrollment Planning at BGSU, shared his passion for shaping the futures of students and their families. He made it clear that our job would be difficult; whether that meant answering many questions time and time again, or dropping a Big Mac on our white t-shirts during travel. None of the challenges matter, Van said, when a student you recruited asks to take a photo with you at their college/university graduation. You helped them get their foot in the door. You provided them the opportunity to succeed in higher education. You changed their life, and they will go on to change others.

9) Nobody wants to grow up to be an admissions counselor

It’s true – we all wanted to be doctors, astronauts, singers, and even garbage truck drivers (because we thought it meant a one-day work week), but we did not discover the world of admissions until we experienced the application process as high school students. Most of us “fell into” college admissions; and for that, we will be forever grateful.

8) To quote High School Musical, “we’re all in this together”

SI taught me that I have an immense support system in my career, outside of my office (although I must admit my office support system is the, S/O to my University of Akron colleagues!) We may be recruiting the same students, but ultimately, we all want what is best for those students. We are not each other’s competition, but are instead each other’s backbones. I now know who I can turn to for a Tide stick when I inevitably drop that Big Mac on my outfit on the road.

7) Speaking of music, admissions professionals LOVE karaoke

Seriously. Nothing unites a group of strangers quite like covers of Lil Jon, Lady Gaga, and an eerily realistic rendition of New Edition’s “Can You Stand the Rain”.

6) To go from being a good counselor to a great one, you must go the extra mile

BGSU’s very own Sarah Zachrich and Ali Tracy shared their tips about how to become the best admissions counselor in the office and on the road. They stressed the importance of offering a personalized experience to each student that asks for one. Although we are typically swimming in to-do lists, and it might be tempting to push students to attend a larger visit day, it is crucial to remember that these personalized visits are invaluable. Call the financial aid office, connect with faculty, and email every current student you know to make these visits happen – because prospective students will notice your efforts. Great counselors eliminate the phrase “that’s not my job” from their vocabulary.

5) Don’t be afraid to ask for more responsibility, but remember you can also ask for help

Pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone to take on further responsibilities is the best way to grow personally and professionally. Evaluate what skills you want to develop, and discuss opportunities with your supervisor. On the other hand, if you feel that your current work quality will suffer, don’t be afraid to decline an additional opportunity provided by your supervisor. Remember that your prospective students (as well as your mental health and well-being) deserve the best version of yourself. Don’t overload your plate with too much responsibility.

4) There are many resources available to help you master territory management

I can’t begin to tell you how many gasps I heard after Thiel College Senior Admissions Counselor, Jake Kos, mapped out his travel schedule on BatchGeo. “Where was this tool when I planned my travel?!” was the common response. Jake also presented the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), Ohio School Report Card, and School Digger. These tools provide data about public and private high schools across the nation including student/teacher ratios, ethnic makeup, student performance, enrollment, graduation rates, and more. These data can help to determine which schools in your territory are worth visiting.

3) Bring your business card with you EVERYWHERE you go

If I didn’t already learn this lesson firsthand at SI, Adrea Spoon, BGSU’s Director of Admissions, imprinted this message in my mind. You never know where you might meet a prospective student or their parents; it could be at Cedar Point in Sandusky or at Cheers Restaurant in Boston! If your business card is always handy, you will have endless opportunities to grow your network and market your institution.

2) If you want to enhance your career, you need to get involved

Whether you join an OACAC committee or volunteer at your institution’s move-in day, it is critical to get involved. Volunteering allows you to form relationships and build your professional network; and we have all heard the expression “it’s who you know, not what you know”. Volunteer work also provides you with skills training that you may not be utilizing in your office. Get out and get involved! Again – don’t forget to bring that business card!

1) The admissions profession is the greatest profession in the world

Sure, we work weeknights and weekends sometimes. Yes, other times we forget to schedule enough time to eat a real lunch. But what other profession allows you to drive a brand-new rental car to a comfy hotel bed, after changing the lives of students and their families every day? 🙂

If you attended this year’s Summer Institute, what did you learn?


By: Bre Koch

Admissions Counselor

The University of Akron

Department of Education Policies… Is there a bias towards underrepresented students?

Whether it be federal financial aid applications and tools, student loan reform and repayment, school choice, public higher education funding, federal TRIO programs, or Title IX, all eyes are on the Department of Education. While I cannot cover all of these topics in one short blog post, I will shed light on a few that hit close to home.

Financial Aid

When it comes to federal financial aid there have been many discussions. First a very abrupt suspension of the IRS Data Retrieval Tool which allows students to import family income data already filed with the government when completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. To this point some may argue that this has adversely affected low-income families’ ability to successfully apply for federal financial aid. According to NASFAA (National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators) the suspending of the DRT has been proven to have an adversarial effect on low-income students.

Update: The IRS Data Retrieval Tool has been made available for loan repayment purposes but not students, parents, or borrowers.

College Access Government Funded Programs

The Federal TRIO Programs (TRIO) are Federal outreach and student services programs designed to identify and provide services for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds. TRIO includes eight programs targeted to serve and assist low-income individuals, first-generation college students, and individuals with disabilities to progress through the academic pipeline from middle school to post- baccalaureate programs.

The importance of supporting programs like TRIO are crucial to the access and success piece within higher education.  Programs like Upward Bound which has been around since 1964, and under the new Department of Education leadership may now be subject to funding cuts. There is a rising number of cuts to public education for at risk districts which are already feeling the stress of being understaffed, any further cuts to college access program can spell disaster for underrepresented student populations.

Update: Previously, under the direction of Secretary Betsy DeVos, the U.S. Department of Education denied funding to programs on 44 campuses due to double-space or font mishaps (listed on the application). In light of recent circumstances, however, the currently imperiled Upward Bound programs across the country may be safe, at least for now. Last week, during her testimony in front of the House Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, Secretary DeVos committed to reconsider the ineligible applications using funds and direction provided by Congress in the 2017 omnibus spending bill. – Inside Higher Ed

Protections for LGBT Students under Federal Law

Just to recap a few key points on Title IX:

Title IX

When looking at the infographic take note that the new parameters regarding gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation are included in the updated Title IX Resource Guide published by Office for Civil Rights, thus requiring colleges to provide equal access to LGBT students. So when leadership within the Department of Education makes comments that are detrimental the protections that should be in place according to federal law when an institution is receiving federal funds. According to an article authored by Andrew Kreighbaum it was stated that:

“Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, in front of a Senate subcommittee last week, had noticeably changed her tune, telling senators repeatedly that any school receiving federal funding is required to follow federal law. That assurance came with a pretty big caveat, however. Pressed by Democrats on how she would protect the rights of LGBT students, DeVos said in areas where the law is “unsettled,” which she said included issues of bias against gay people, her department would not be “issuing decrees.”

Taking oral statements and written law into consideration makes for a contradictory view on this matter by the Department of Education.

When looking at the full scope of policy implications, we need to ask ourselves are these policies beneficial to students? Additionally are we moving towards more or less accessibility when it comes to higher education opportunities? Education professionals need to be well versed on how federal and state policies can affect the success and persistence of students K through 12 and beyond. It is our charge as professionals to remove roadblocks for students pursuing higher education.


By: Courtney Johnson-Benson, M.A.Ed.

Senior Assistant Director of Admissions

The University of Akron

National Coming Out Day!

TomorrowOctober 11th, is National Coming Out Day.
To celebrate, I’m coming out with some information that will be helpful as you work with LGBTQ+ students in the college search process.
First, the Gender Unicorn is the most up-to-date visual to better understand gender identity, gender expression, sex assigned at birth, and physical and emotional attachment. It’s important to recognize the differences between these terms as we work with students!
Next, the Campus Pride Index Trans Clearinghouse has lists and links of colleges that have nondiscrimination policies that include gender identity/ expression, gender-inclusive housing, trans-inclusive athletic policies, LGBTQ+ Identity questions on admission forms, Women’s college policies, Record changing lists, and medical related resources. It’s a great resource, and is not trans* exclusive.
Finally, there are MANY scholarship organizations that are out there (and several Universities that offer scholarships for students, as well), but I wanted to draw attention to the Point Foundation. For students that are out, and willing to share their story, it has done great things in the community. Today, I applied to be a reader for the Foundation, and I encourage you to do the same if you have an interest in this population.
 As a shameless plus, this information is a small slice of what the OACAC Inclusion, Access and Success (IAS) committee provides for professionals.  If you are interested in being a part of the conversation related to diversity and equity issues, I encourage you to visit and check out IAS.
Charlie Runyan
Westerville South High School
IAS Chair

OACAC Annual Conference Community Service: I Know I Can

The Inclusion, Access, and Success Committee was excited to collaborate with I Know I Can, a college access organization serving the Columbus, OH city school district, to raise donations during OACAC’s Annual Conference (April 10-11).


I Know I Can (IKIC) was founded in 1988 as a result of the foresight, dedication, and generosity of community and civic leaders who believed that no child should be denied a college education simply because they could not afford it.  I Know I Can is the only college access program in Columbus and one of the largest and most successful in the nation. Since its beginning, I Know I Can has made higher education a reality for tens of thousands of Columbus City Schools students who dreamed of a college education and worked hard to get it. Today, IKIC provides the materials, financial support, mentoring and advising services needed to help students overcome barriers and achieve their higher education dreams with particular emphasis on middle school and high school students as well as current college students.  For the past 27 years, IKIC has not only helped parents and students navigate the college-going process; it has also awarded more than 25,000 grants and scholarships, with a total investment of more than $26 million in the higher education of CCS’s college-bound students.

With the support from conference attendees we were able to collect 4 full bins of items including notepads, pens/pencils, cups, college logo wear, and other items.

We can definitely say that they want to offer a big Thank You to everyone at the OACAC Annual Conference who made donations to the students at I Know I Can!