The requirement for entrance and exit counseling for student borrowers has been around for decades now. Some may recall the days when it was more common to hear of these events as entrance and exit interviews. Perhaps that terminology was used due to the fact that in an era gone by students actually had to have an in-person interview. This interview hearkens all the way back to the olden days of the Federally Insured Student Loan (FISL) program, which was the precursor to the Guaranteed Student Loan (GSL) program that became the Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP), and which was, in turn, finally replaced by the Federal Direct Loan Program (DL). In those early days, students actually had to schedule an appointment with a private lender—there were no DL options back then—and go to the bank or credit union to have the terms of the loan explained to the borrower. That is, the student’s responsibilities, rights, and other terms of the loan were explained in person, in detail, before the loan was made. Thus, it was more like an “interview” to gauge the borrower’s understanding of the loan terms, etc., before the loan was made. Likewise, as exit counseling came in to play, the requirement was for an in-person session as well.
But, those are bygone days. We have progressed through the years to be more efficient and to expedite processing, as well as to accommodate the various modalities of instruction utilized in our current world. It is more and more prevalent that institutions of higher education rely upon the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) services to meet the requirements of offering entrance and exit counseling. The “counseling” has morphed into a self-guided perusal through information on a Web site developed by ED. Much of the information for loan counseling via ED’s domain was originally funneled through the National Direct Student Loan System’s (NSLDS) section called “NSLDS Student Access”. However, effective March 24, 2013, all of the federally required entrance and exit counseling may now be completed at ED’s newest comprehensive Web site for such counseling, StudentLoans.gov. In fact, this enhanced and expanded site is now the only place that entrance and exit counseling may be accomplished if an institution and/or student chooses to utilize ED’s Web site resources to accomplish loan counseling requirements. Exit counseling may no longer be completed via the NSLDS Student Access Web site.
StudentLoans.gov is the place to go. It is now the comprehensive site for all things “counseling” related on the topic of student loans. Students will utilize the various modules—Entrance Counseling, Exit Counseling and also, Financial Awareness Counseling—to fulfill the applicable requirements or instruction all at the same Web site. Therefore, any school that chooses to use ED’s Web resources as the tool to meet loan counseling requirements must ensure that their students are aware of the new site for exit counseling. It is important to make sure that all student consumer information is updated with the current and accurate information about StudentLoans.gov that previously had the NSLDS Student Access site listed as the place to go for exit counseling.
One enhancement to the exit counseling accomplished through the switch to StudentLoans.gov is that borrowers are provided with preliminary repayment plan information that highlights the eligibility requirements of the various repayment plans along with estimated repayment amounts applicable to the plan. The borrower is given the option to choose a repayment plan that he or she prefers. It is planned that later this year the borrower’s choice of plans will be provided to the borrower’s federal loan servicer. This will expedite the repayment plan selection prior to the student’s grace period expiration. Schools also have the opportunity to receive reports through COD for entrance and exit counseling. The frequency options for receiving the reports are either on a daily basis or via an “on demand” basis. If a school has opted to receive exit counseling responses on a daily basis, the reports will be submitted to the school’s Student Aid Internet Gateway (SAIG) mailbox each night. Schools may also choose to receive a Counseling Report via its COD Reporting Newsbox on the COD Web site. This report lists any students who completed any type of counseling via StudentLoans.gov. The report has a Counseling Type Indicator that shows if the student completed counseling (e.g., “X” in the Counseling Type Indicator shows the student completed exit counseling). In addition to the reports available to schools, students who are signed in to StudentLoans.gov will receive a confirmation e-mail once they have completed any of the three loan counseling modules. The e-mail will be sent to the address in the StudentLoans.gov system.
Students will typically access the counseling modules by clicking on the green “Sign In” box on the StudentLoans.gov home page. When signing in and accomplishing counseling in this manner, schools should be able to receive confirmation of the student completing the counseling, as described earlier.
For those financial aid administrators who would like to see what information is contained in each of the three loan counseling modules on StudentLoans.gov, you may visit the “Counseling Demo” under the “Tools and Resources” tab at StudentLoans.gov. You may then work through the modules, absent the loan data that a student would typically see displayed if they had signed in. Of note is that students may also access the required entrance and exit counseling modules through this avenue. However, if they do and do not sign in, their individual loan data will not be imported and there will be no record that they completed any of the counseling. Also, in the “Demo” mode, students are not able to select which schools to notify when they have completed counseling. Thus, for students, it is likely best for them to sign in to the Web site on the site’s home page.
One final note about the contents of StudentLoans.gov is that TEACH Grant Exit Counseling will not be on StudentLoans.gov, but rather, it will continue to be available at NSLDS Student Access. Students may link to the required TEACH Grant counseling from StudentLoans.gov, however.
Before ending our journey through StudentLoans.gov, it is important to emphasize that schools can use the information on the site to comply with the new counseling requirements applicable to the implementation of the 150% Subsidized Direct Loan limit. As was noted in the May 16, 2013 Electronic Announcement from ED, schools must enhance the counseling offered to new borrowers to include information about the 150% of the student’s published program length limit on Subsidized Direct Loans. The StudentLoans.gov site offers the opportunity to comply with this obligation as it currently includes links to information that will assist in meeting this requirement. By the fall, the required information should be incorporated directly into the text of the counseling modules.
Overall, the StudentLoans.gov Web site is an improvement over prior capabilities in ED’s system. It is truly becoming the place to go.