Avoiding debtor’s prison

Some colleges and universities have federally-mandated exit counseling workshops conducted by representatives of loan companies, according to The New York Times article published last Saturday. However, exit counseling is done differently at the College.

Exit counseling is required by the Department of Education for all graduating college seniors who are paying their tuition with loans.

“According to the Department of Education, exit counseling is intended to explain borrowers’ rights and responsibilities, loan repayment and the consequences of default,” the Times article said.

According to Jamie Hightower, director of Student Financial Services at the College, exit counseling and loan consolidation at the College are two separate processes, unlike at some of the schools featured in the Times article.

Exit counseling at the College is handled through an online process called “Mapping Your Future.” If a student does not complete the exit interview, a transcript hold is placed on his account.

An e-mail was recently sent to seniors by the Office of Student Financial Assistance reminding them to complete their exit interviews and detailing the process. The e-mail provided the Web site students need to use to complete exit counseling, mapping-your-future.org, and reminded students that separate interviews need to be conducted for Stafford and Perkins loans recipients.

“Please be reminded that the exit loan counseling is a graduation requirement mandated by the United States Department of Education,” the e-mail said.

Loan consolidation, which means combining the different types of loans a student may have to pay into a single interest rate and one monthly payment, is a separate process.

Last year was the first time the College held a loan consolidation workshop, which was conducted by a Sallie Mae representative.

“This workshop was conducted by a Sallie Mae representative who in no way persuaded the students to consolidate with Sallie Mae as their lender,” Hightower said. “He provided general information about loan consolidation such as what it is, how to consolidate and how the interest rate is determined.”

This year, the workshop is scheduled to be conducted by a representative from the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority, a state agency.

“This workshop will serve as a vehicle to prepare students on how to select a lender for consolidation if their situation deems necessary,” Hightower said.