UT may have to offer more student loan information

Mikaela Cannizzo

UT would be required to provide students who receive financial aid with information regarding estimates of the amount of student debt they might incur under a bill unanimously passed by the Senate Monday.

Senate Bill 887, sponsored by State Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, requires certain state institutions within the student loan program to annually report specific debt information such as the amount borrowed to date and estimates of future payments. According to the bill analysis report, the bill aims to promote a legislative higher education goal of significantly reducing student debt in Texas by 2030.

“With student debt continuing to rise, it is imperative that students be well-informed on the loan debt they are incurring and better understand the short-term and long-term implications of that debt,” Seliger said.

While UT does not provide estimations of debt that will have to be paid off in the future, students who receive loans can currently check the amount of aid they borrow each year online, according to the University’s Office of Financial Aid. A system called “CASH” (Check Aid Status Here), which students can access through UT Direct, provides this information.

The University’s website additionally offers a link to the National Student Loan Data System, which shows students the total amount of federal loans they borrow while attending a university.
Under the bill, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, an agency that provides leadership for higher education in the state, would assist institutions in relaying information about estimates of the total state and federal loan amount incurred by students, total payoff amount and total monthly repayment amount. Seliger’s bill does not specifically state a method for distributing this information, but suggests a mobile app as an example.

During a recent committee meeting on SB 887, State Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, expressed her concern about the clarity of the messages students will potentially receive regarding their loan information.

“I just worry about the students really understanding what they’re getting, and it being put in a way where it’s digestible information for them,” Buckingham said during the hearing.
Ginger Gossman, senior director of the coordinating board, said she wants to find a way to make the information relevant and readable to students. She said the agency is considering a letter Indiana University sends out to students about their debt information as a template, but plans to consult with institutions and students to collaborate on how best to distribute this information.

“Their letter was the beginning of a change on their campus and changed the culture to drawing attention toward student indebtedness and helping students think through this more clearly,” Gossman said during the hearing.

Seliger said the bill would not replace current university procedures for providing this information, but rather sets new requirements that universities must comply with if they are not already doing so. While UT would not be required to alter reporting methods for the information they already provide about student debt, they would have to add future debt estimations to the same website or create a new way to share the information with students if the bill passes.

The bill awaits assignment to a House of Representatives committee, which will determine if it continues to advance in the Legislature.