BTC students borrow $700,000 less

Reprinted with permission from Universitybusiness.com.

One year after adding GradReady to in-person counseling for certain student groups, Blackhawk Technical College (BTC) is seeing significant impacts. During the last year, the college has seen a $700,000 decrease in student borrowing.  According to the GradReady data, students who were ineligible for federal aid due to issues with Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP), 75 percent of them returned to good standing as a result of using the GradReady resources.

Offered free by Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation and Affiliates, GradReady is an online financial wellness counseling program that helps students estimate the impact of college completion on future earning potential and understand the effect money management choices have on their ability to access educational financing.

BTC's policy is to award unsubsidized loans to borrowers who have less than $20,000 in student loan debt. Eligible students who want to take out more unsubsidized loans must meet with a financial advisor to discuss the implications and complete the GradReady modules Paying for College and Money Skills. As of June 30, 2016, 408 students had completed this process despite being informed by BTC that it was a school policy and not a federal mandate. With the change, BTC has seen an estimated $700,000 reduction in student borrowing.

Third-semester accounting major Joel Heaberlin completed this process, and says GradReady's information and tools for loan repayment, in particular, are impactful: "When it comes specifically to school and loans, then definitely GradReady is better [than my accounting classes] because it goes into more depth."

BTC requires students who have lost eligibility for financial aid due to issues with SAP to complete GradReady's Money Management module as part of their academic plan. They also must use the program's budget tool and Debt-O-Meter, a tool that helps students measure the impact of their actual borrowing on future payments and their ability to pay based on expected post-graduation income for their program.

Preliminary findings show that 75 percent of BTC students on probation for financial aid have returned to good standing.

Third-semester business management student Jessica Crawford hopes to graduate debt-free in spring 2017, thanks in part to the addition of GradReady to BTC's in-person entrance counseling. GradReady's learning modules helped her understand budgeting, loans, and the impact of borrowing on future payments. Entering actual income and expenses into GradReady's budget gave her specific amounts for various expense categories. Crawford says she now dodges "impulsive buyer's syndrome" by taking just her budgeted cash with her in an envelope so she won't overspend.

Crawford recently took out her first student loan when her car broke down and she couldn't use it for four months. "…I had to figure out how I was going to pay for that and pay for school at the same time. Was I going to have to take out a loan, and how could I avoid having to pay a lot of money when I was done with school?" Using GradReady's Electronic Loan Counselor, she took out a small student loan which is sitting unused in an account. If she and her 14-year-old daughter avoid other unforeseen expenses, Crawford plans to return the loan and pay no interest.