Policymakers & Advocates

About the Center for Consumer Advocacy

Policymakers & Advocates

About the Center for Consumer Advocacy

Our Mission

The Center for Consumer Advocacy aims to use our experience, research, consumer insights, and public platform to be a compelling voice for students and families looking to succeed in college in a financially sound way.

Together, we strive to:

  1. Lower college costs and amounts borrowed
    • Increase public investment in higher education
    • Support college savings plans
    • Support Pell grant funding
    • Keep federal loan interest rates low
    • Focus on college completion efforts
    • Support better use of technology to change college models
  2. Help students understand the importance of picking a college that is the right financial fit
    • Provide college planning that includes both an academic and financial plan for success
    • Provide a full picture of the cost to degree– not just semester to semester
    • Improve policies for PLUS loans
  3. Provide focused attention on populations in need of additional support
    • First generation students
    • Veterans
    • Older Americans (Parent PLUS loans)
    • Borrowers with mental illness
    • Borrowers with permanent disabilities
  4. Support better financial education to understand the full cost of college and cost of debt
    • Provide financial education in college and in the years before
    • Improve entrance and exit counseling
  5. Ease the burden for current debt holders
    • Improve education debt counseling
    • Simplify loan repayment options
    • Allow for refinancing of high interest federal loans
    • Provide federal and state tax incentives for employer participation in loan repayment
    • Increase income driven repayment for PLUS borrowers
    • Increase school accountability for debt reduction by ensuring they have “skin-in-the-game”
    • Create flexible repayment options for private student loans
    • Support bankruptcy discharge for student loans

Policy Priorities

Current Federal Legislation of Relevance

All higher education legislation on student aid and college costs can be found here.

Teach Student and Families the Importance of the Right Financial Fit for College

ASA supports effort to change the way financial aid is discussed and administered so that students and families can be proactive, empowered consumers of higher education rather than passive financial aid “recipients.”

Too often student borrowers and their families make unwise choices about college financing that they may come to regret. This includes making emotional choices rather than pragmatic choices about the school they attend; failing to exhaust grant aid prior to taking out loans; failing to take out federal debt with more favorable repayment terms over private loans; failing to consider how the student borrower will be able to repay the debts taken on; failing to understand the scope of the amount borrowed; and parents borrowing too much on behalf of their children and mortgaging their own financial security in the process. The list could go on and on. The reality is that despite 50 years of existence of the current college financing system, far too few students and families know how the system can work best for them—they are just signing on the dotted line for financial aid and never questioning if it’s in their best interest to do so. Many borrowers are so focused on getting in, they fail to take a long-term view on how they will repay.

While student borrowers and their families need to be better informed about the best means of financing a college education in a way that fits their unique circumstances, more information is of little assistance if borrowers and families don’t make a tandem commitment to becoming more educated consumers. College acceptance can’t just be about getting into your “dream” school, it has to be about getting into the right school both academically and financially. Student borrowers and their families need to start making choices about higher education as they do other consumer purchases—the decision can’t just be about a name brand, it has to be a smart financial choice as well.

Financial Education for College Students

ASA supports efforts to increase financial education for college populations to help ensure student borrowers are educated consumers of higher education debt and properly prepared to understand the debt burdens they are taking on in a broader economic context.

Colleges have an obligation to reinforce with their in-school population the need to live like a student now so they won’t need to in the future. Students should be instructed on the simple basics of budgeting, personal finance, and the difference between wants vs. needs, so that all borrowing is kept to a minimum. Additionally, colleges need to inform students that not all student loans are created equal. A distressingly high number of private student loan borrowers are not aware that these loans have fewer payment options than federal loans, or the benefits of exhausting all federal loan options first.

Of course, supplying debt management education to students comes at a financial and resource cost, and schools need not carry this burden alone. As federal and state financial aid policies also influence debt level amounts for students, government funding could help defray this financial expense for colleges. The federal government should provide resources to assist the schools in providing these services through a grant program.

Improve Entrance and Exit Counseling

ASA supports efforts to improve entrance and exit counseling in ways that will have a meaningful impact on borrower success and won’t unnecessarily burden schools.

Increasing School Flexibility

While federal student loan recipients do currently have financial aid counseling requirements for entrance and exit counseling, some schools feel that additional counseling beyond that is necessary for their particular constituency of students. Unfortunately, the Secretary of Education has interpreted current law in such a way that prohibits schools from requiring such additional counseling because there is a belief that it may limit access to federal loans. As schools are responsible for their own cohort default rates, they should have the ability to require additional counseling as they see appropriate. We believe that this can be done in a way that does not have an adverse impact on access.

Timing

All research shows that for financial education to be effective, it has to be relevant, timely, actionable, and ongoing. Efforts to strengthen entrance and exit counseling should be focused on ensuring that borrowers are receiving information and counseling in a time and manner that they are able to act upon. There are many proposals within Congress to change requirements around exit and entrance counseling, but none will be effective unless the timing of such counseling is also addressed.

Entrance Counseling

Entrance counseling should be required at a time and in a manner that the borrower can understand the obligations and terms of their student loans prior to disbursement of the loan. Current entrance counseling is generally provided after the loan decision has been made and at the moment the student is in need of the funds the most, therefore not allowing for an educated decision about loan obligation to be made prior to taking the loan. Clearer disclosures of loan obligations should be provided prior to taking out a federal loan, with both the repayment obligations AND the flexibility of federal repayment options well defined.

Exit Counseling

There should be efforts made to ensure that exit counseling continues after graduation. Current exit counseling due-diligence efforts are generally the right information in the wrong form and at the wrong time. When a student is having an exit interview they are thinking about graduation or their job prospects. The furthest thing from their mind is the bill that they will have to pay in 6 months. Exit counseling should provide follow-up information and outreach to borrowers around the time that first payment is due so they can immediately take action on the counseling provided. If the school does not have the personnel to provide this outreach, they should be required or incented to use a third party provider to provide this follow-up.

Education Debt Management for Student Borrowers

ASA supports efforts to ensure student loan borrowers have proactive and timely information on student loan repayment, and supports efforts to ensure that neutral parties working on behalf of the borrower are providing unbiased student loan counseling beyond the exit and entrance counseling process.

Policymakers should reinstate and expand the federal investment in innovative and proactive education debt management programs that have proven to help student borrowers take advantage of all the available remedies put in place by Congress to avoid delinquency and default. America cannot regain its global competitiveness and bolster its economy without a functional student loan program that ensures student borrowers can survive the payback period without financial demise.

Provide Tax Incentives for Employer Student Loan Repayment

ASA has long advocated for both state and federal-level tax incentives to be made available to employers who adopt student loan reimbursement as part of their benefits programs.

At ASA we offer student loan reimbursement as a benefit to our employees because we believe it’s the right thing to do. It also makes good business sense as we see an increase in job satisfaction, retention of employees, and have been named to the Boston Globe’s Top Places to Work list for eight years in a row. We encourage other employers to do the same for their employees

Employers are the primary beneficiaries of a highly educated population. Thanks to a tax benefit, many employers offer tuition reimbursement that will allow employees to further their education. Unfortunately for the employer, once these credentials are gained, the employee often moves on to other opportunities. Employers would benefit, and retain employees, by helping employees pay for the loans that got them the great job in the first place. Student loan debt reduction programs provide employers and employees with a foundation for economic stability. By offering a tax incentive to employers who provide a student loan reimbursement to employees, we can help:

  • Reduce debt burdens
  • Retain local college graduates and grow the tax base
  • Stabilize local businesses and help strengthen the economy
  • Attract a well-educated workforce
  • Ease the burden and stress placed on employees by large amounts of debt

In an ASA survey, 76% of respondents said that, all other things being equal, if an employer offered assistance with student loan repayment, it would be the deciding factor or have considerable impact on their choice to take that job.

Public Comments on Legislative Issues

To the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure

ASA submitted testimony in support of an act establishing a Student Tuition Recovery Fund.

To The U.S. Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee

In response to white papers and a request for comment from the U.S. Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee regarding the Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, ASA responded to two of the policy proposals.

To The U.S. Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee

In response to a request for comment from the U.S. Senate Health Education Labor and Pensions Committee regarding the Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, ASA drafted comments that highlight issues we feel should be addressed in legislation.

To The Massachusetts Joint Committee on Education, Student Debt Subcommittee

In response to a request for testimony from the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Education, Student Debt Subcommittee regarding student debt in Massachusetts, ASA testified on issues we feel should be addressed in legislation.

View Comments

Many ASA comments were incorporated into the Massachusetts State Report on Student Debt.

To The Massachusetts Joint Committee on Education

In response to a request for testimony from the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Education regarding employer tax incentives for student loan repayment in Massachusetts, ASA submitted testimony.

To The President’s Commission on Financial Literacy and Education at the U.S. Department of Treasury

In response to a request for testimony from the President’s Commission on Financial Literacy and Education at the U.S. Department of Treasury, regarding creative means for reaching borrowers about financial issues, ASA testified on issues we feel should be best practices.

To The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

In response to a request from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, ASA gave the following interview.

White Papers and Research

Life Delayed: The Impact of Student Debt on the Daily Lives of Young Americans

A survey recently conducted by American Student Assistance found that those with student debt are delaying decisions to buy a home, get married, have children, save for retirement, and enter a desired career field because of their debt.

Download White Paper
Missing Data: Focusing on the Wrong Factors Could Lead to Student Loan Distress

Unfortunately, all we really track is the number of loans that have died. We could be much more successful in returning federal assets in student lending if we did more to make sure problems didn’t occur in the first place and held people accountable for metrics that help, rather than add to, the distress of borrowers.

Download White Paper
Retirement Delayed

As the way we finance higher education has changed over the generations, so too have the demographics of those impacted by student debt. With a rapidly increasing population of older, “non-traditional” students enrolling in college every day, not only is the image of new college graduates inaccurate, but so is the image of those struggling with student debt.

Download White Paper
Approaching The Tipping Point

Our nation’s student loan system is approaching a tipping point from a social, economic, and public policy perspective. Rising college costs, a sluggish job market that has driven a record number of Americans to seek out higher education, and a constraint on federal and state budget dollars afforded to grants, have all combined to produce an explosion in student loan borrowing.

Download White Paper
Next: Who We Are

Who We Are

Together, the Consumer Advocacy team represents more than a century of knowledge and expertise in higher education financing.

Julie Lammers, Managing Director, Consumer Advocacy and Government Relations

Julie oversees ASA’s government relations efforts on both the federal and state level, helping to create and push legislative changes on behalf of consumers with student debt and facilitate ASA’s interaction with elected officials. Julie also manages ASA’s public policy, research, and advocacy efforts related to higher education, financial aid and student debt issues. Through this work, Julie coordinates research and special projects that examine the impact that student debt is having on consumers and develops policy solutions that will ease the debt burden on borrowers. Julie has been at ASA since March 2010.

Prior to ASA, Julie spent more than nine years working on higher education and various other issues as Congressional Aide to Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) and his successor, Senator Paul Kirk, Jr.(D-MA). Julie has a dual B.A.in political science and history from Northeastern University, a J.D. from Suffolk University Law School, a certificate in legislative studies from the Government Affairs Institute at Georgetown University, and is a member of the Massachusetts Bar.

Julie can be reached at: jryder@asa.org

Betsy Mayotte, Director, Consumer Outreach and Compliance

In her role, Betsy and her staff resolve loan issues for individual borrowers, as well as analyze data on borrower issues to recommend improvements to federal aid policies and processes. Additionally, she works with all ASA business units to ensure regulatory compliance and evaluate pending legislation for potential impact. As ASA’s principal regulatory subject matter expert, she has served as a primary negotiator for federal Title IV negotiated rulemaking sessions on topics such as the use of student loans at foreign schools and borrower defense to repayment, and has provided regulatory and technical support for most negotiated rulemaking sessions since 2006.

Betsy represents ASA on various student loan industry committees, including the National Council of Higher Education Resources Regulations Committee, the Common Manual Governing Board and the Massachusetts Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators Government Relations Committee. Betsy regularly advises consumers on planning and paying for college. She is a frequent contributor to U.S. News and World Report’s The Student Loan Ranger blog; responds to public inquiries via the saltmoney.org advice resource “Just Ask”; and is frequently quoted in traditional and social media on the topics of student loans and financial aid. Betsy graduated from Bentley College with a B.S. in Business Communications.

Betsy can be reached at: bmayotte@asa.org

Kevin Fudge, Director of Consumer Advocacy and Ombudsman

In his role as Ombudsman, Kevin facilitates borrower concerns and serves as a neutral party to resolve complex borrower challenges. He uses the trends he sees in Ombudsman cases to shape policies and regulations that the Center should address moving forward.

Kevin also works with policymakers, state agencies and non-profit organizations to improve college access, college completion rates and successful higher education debt management through raising public awareness about the college financing process. He provides effective solutions to complex student loan situations for members of federal and state government and their constituents. As a diligent advocate for consumers in the national conversation about student loan debt and higher education policy, Kevin provides innovative research and insightful analysis of federal student aid to national and local media, secondary school administrators, higher education professionals, and think tanks. Kevin is a graduate of the University of Virginia and received his master’s degree in Education Policy and Management from Harvard University.

Kevin can be reached at: kfudge@asa.org

Ashley Norwood, Consumer and Regulatory Advisor

Ashley is passionate about making higher education not only accessible but also affordable, with the goal of shifting the current paradigm to empower students and families to make college choices and determine borrowing strategies in a financially responsible way. In her role at ASA, Ashley works to resolve student loan issues that face individual borrowers, as well as recommends improvements to federal financial aid policies. She provides training and guidance regarding federal student loan topics including repayment, forgiveness, and discharge to internal associates and external groups.

Ashley has contributed articles to USA TODAY College and the Huffington Post Blog, advising consumers on planning and paying for college and how to manage student loans post-college. She is also a member of the Massachusetts Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, serving on the Early Awareness and Outreach Committee as well as the National Council of Higher Education Resources Regulations Committee. Prior to joining ASA in 2012, Ashley worked as a financial aid advisor at both the graduate and undergraduate level for six years. She graduated from the College of the Holy Cross with a B.A. in Economics.

Ashley can be reached at: anorwood@asa.org

Bob Cole, Director of Community Impact

Robert Cole is the Director of Community Impact at American Student Assistance (ASA). In his role, Robert works with higher education stakeholders to identify and address opportunities to affect college access, completion and how to transition students to the real world. Robert has been with ASA for twenty years and has played an instrumental role in the development and implementation of many of ASA’s strategic endeavors. He has a deep understanding of issues affecting college access and financing and is currently working with nonprofits and states to launch financial empowerment and education debt management programs to underserved students. Robert is a graduate of Bates College and is an avid reader of American history.

Bob can be reached at: rcole@asa.org

Caroline Menendez, Manager of Community Partnerships

With an extensive background in school financial aid administration, Caroline Menendez joined ASA in November 1999 and is currently serving on the Consumer Advocacy Team as the Manager of Community Partnerships. Caroline has been in the higher education industry for over 20 years, focusing on student loan receivables, default management and retention strategies. She has served as a Trainer and Client Service Manager for default management services, assisting schools with traditionally high default rates in default aversion strategies and techniques. Caroline has also worked as both a financial aid counselor and director, which has given her insight to students’ struggles with education debt both in school and after they leave campus. In her current position Caroline is working with organizations and associations to help connect those in need with Salt’s tools and resources.

Caroline can be reached at: cmenendez@asa.org

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