College will launch online loan profile to increase transparency to student loan recipients

by Caroline Berens | 10/18/15 7:27pm

As national concern mounts over the amount of student loan debt faced by recent college graduates, student loan offices are not frequently applauded for their transparency. But with transparency in mind, the financial aid office will launch an online loan profile on Bannerstudent this coming week where students can view their loans and projected repayment, financial aid director Dino Koff said.

This tool marks one step in the College’s efforts to provide transparency to student loan recipients. As challenges associated with student loans receive greater notoriety, students and experts reflected on the College’s efforts to provide information on loan packages to help students avoid fraudsters or imprudent financial planning.

Koff said that this tool marks a collaborative effort between administrative computing and the financial aid offices at the College, the Tuck School of Business and the Geisel School of Medicine. He said that these groups aim to help students better navigate their finances at “the touch of a button.”

In particular, when students sign promissory notes, Koff wants students to be aware of the legal conditions to which they are bound in the future.

Koff explained that financial aid packages — which approximately half of students at the College receive — contain some combination of scholarships or loans, depending on the student’s demonstrated need. These loans can be institutional, meaning specific to the College, or federal.

A female member of the Class of 2016 who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of the subject explained that although the student would prefer to receive scholarship money only, the burden of loans can be mitigated through efforts of the College.

“Having loans that you eventually will have to repay obviously isn’t ideal, but there are some ways Dartmouth tries to soften the blow, certainly,” she said.

Student loan ombudsman for American Student Assistance Grace Bartini said student loans have become such a controversial subject because, besides their increasing prevalence in higher education, students often borrow money when they are young and may not be fully informed about the repayment process.

Bartini said some students fall victim to scammers who charge people for information about potential loan forgiveness. She said this is information is always accessible for free, and there are plenty of resources to use.

“Know what you’re getting into, know what needs to be done when you graduate or withdraw from school. Take advantage of the options out there, keep all of your documents, talk to the right people,” Bartini said, noting that financial aid offices can serve as a useful resource.

Ultimately, as much responsibility as students have, it is on the part of the loan providers to be as organized, straightforward and cognizant as well.

“The goal is no surprises,” Koff said.

Koff said the financial aid office makes efforts to be as transparent as possible with students regarding loan information. He described online counseling students must do to see their loans’ interest rates and repayment programs.

He and student financial services loan specialist Nancy Gray also described the exit process that students receiving loans must go through when they graduate or leave the College, which entails a student updating his or her information online and reviewing repayment information. This aims to keep students informed and aware, Gray said.

“We give them a repayment schedule so they can see how much they borrowed and approximately how much in finance charges they’ll incur, as well as what their monthly payments are and when their first payment is due,” Gray explained.

Koff explained that although loans are not as exciting as a scholarship, there are “favorable terms” to some of these institutional loans.

“Along with hopefully getting some scholarship, we’re really fortunate to offer institutional loans and federal options,” Koff said. “This is advantageous because some of our institutional loans are subsidized, which means the College is picking up the interest while you’re in school.”

Bartini agreed, noting that with a more substantial endowment comes greater flexibility in offerings to students in terms of institutional loans and grant money.

“Definitely Ivy League institutions or those with high endowments can give good packages to a students,” Bartini said.

Koff said that generally, from a purely financial standpoint, this makes the College a more attractive option than many other schools.

“To have a resource in these loans, many times we can make the cost of education more affordable than at some other schools that may even cost less,” Koff said.

Bartini qualified Koff’s statement, explaining that although this is sometimes the case, other times a school’s cost of tuition is so low that it eliminates this possibility. She said students and their families must carefully weigh all financial aid packages from schools to which they have been accepted to make a decision.

The member of the Class of 2016 noted her support for the online tool, noting that she was “very impressed” by the idea.

Bartini said that in her experience, the College and its counterparts make similar efforts for clarity surrounding loans with students.

“I think Dartmouth and other elite institutions are very happy to go through everything with students, with the media, with anyone, to be as transparent as they can be,” Bartini said.

The anonymous member of the Class of 2016 said she has been largely satisfied with the financial aid office’s transparency and honesty about the student loan process.

“In general, the financial [aid] office has been very transparent about what’s expected of me in the future. It helps to shoulder a bit of the burden,” she said. “I’m worried about being able to repay my loans, but I’m not worried about Dartmouth swindling me or anything like that.”

A male member of the Class of the 2018 who also asked to remain anonymous said that the College should consider channeling more money into its financial aid office if it wants to be competitive with other top schools.

“From a purely objective standpoint, if you’re concerned about finances, if you’re between Harvard [University] and Dartmouth, you’re going to go where you’re paying less,” he said.

He explained that situations like this might account for the College’s lower yield rate than other Ivy League schools.

The member of the Class of 2016 said that while having no loans would be ideal, students at the College are still lucky in the financial help they receive.

“I think they do what they can with what they have,” she said of the financial aid office. “Yes, tuition is incredibly high, but we’re also receiving an incredible education.”