Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Tennessee's Promise Program

In 2014 Tennessee passed the Tennessee Promise Scholarship Act, one of the first "free college" programs in the country. Established as a "last dollar" program (covering tuition and fee charges after other grant aid is subtracted), Tennessee's program is already providing insight to the benefits, interests, and challenges of this model.

Although there will be bumps and changes along the way, Tennessee's program goes a long way toward repositioning community colleges as a viable foundation of higher education.

For more info see today's article in Governing:

Tennessee's Free College Program is Popular, But Will it Succeed?

Saturday, July 9, 2016

College Ruined My Life...Really?

As the debate continues over college costs, college debt, and the long-term value of a college education, opposing viewpoints move further and further apart. The cover of this month's Consumer Reports suggests college (and on a closer read they actually mean college debt) may actually ruin one's life. In contrast, a recent post by policy expert Andrew Kelly offers evidence that, in spite of college debt college is still the divider between the haves and have-nots.

So which argument is right? Both have excellent points. But comparing them as one argument with opposing sides is the proverbial apple-and-oranges dilemma. One story describes four personal stories of students who took on large debt. The other article emphasizes the importance of confirming that the underlying data is accurate before making a "sky is falling" prediction. Alone, each article addresses part of the challenge. Together they provide a fuller picture of the challenges facing students and families, from what information to trust to what level of debt is workable.

Fact: College is not a guaranteed life-ruiner. Neither is it a guaranteed life-enhancer. 

Evidence suggests education is a key to success. But does that mean any education? How is education defined? What role does quality or relevance or opportunity to use one's education play?

Evidence also suggests that 10% of one's gross monthly income (a debt-to-income ratio of about .7) is comfortable given a ten-year repayment schedule. In fact, federal loans were originally designed with this in mind. More (or longer) than that and there may not be enough money for other expenses let alone emergencies. (See for an example; scroll down to calculate the salary needed to support a specific debt figure.)

Over the next few weeks I'll discuss various headlines, what you need to know, and what to take with a grain (or truckload) of salt.

Happy July!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Consumer Lawyer Helps Families Manage Student Debt Woes

A few months ago I had the pleasure of meeting consumer lawyer Randall P. Ryder, a real gem of trustworthy advice for those facing a student loan debt crisis. 

When Ryder graduated from law school he planned to help everyday people stand up to abusive debt collectors and navigate related lawsuits. What he didn’t expect was the role student loan debt would play in the financial troubles of many clients.

Today much of Ryder’s time is spent helping clients untangle a hodgepodge of student loans, understand their consumer rights, and review repayment options. He often advocates on behalf of clients to negotiate a reasonable (if not reduced) repayment plan. When all else fails, Ryder defends his clients in court.

Clients range from recent graduates who are overwhelmed (and surprised) by their debt commitments, to adult students whose second career dreams have become student loan nightmares, to co-signers left holding unplanned debt after the student they supported failed to find that great job – or simply skipped town. Whatever the issue, Ryder has seen it before – and knows where to start.

His advice for prospective students and their families: (1) Student loans are a legal contract - understand your commitment before you sign. (2) Minimize student debt whenever possible, but when you must take loans track your total debt. And for friends and family members, (3) avoid co-signing loans. They can affect your creditworthiness until paid in full – by the student or by you, no matter how long it takes.

One more thing: In the event your loans go into default, Ryder highly recommends consulting with an attorney. Many defaulted loans are placed with a debt collector. Spoiler alert: debt collectors are not always fully aware of all the options and rights for the loan and curing default. An experienced attorney can keep your best interests front and center.

Ryder is exceptionally knowledgeable, straight forward and honest. With the next wave of bad actors emerging in the form of student debt “helpers”, Ryder is one of the few people I trust in this area. He can be reached at or

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

CEO of Boxed Pays Tuition for Employee's Kids

In a bold leaderhip move the CEO of Boxed , Chieh Huang, announced a program to pay tuition for children of his employees. Boxed is a discount online warehouse that sells everything from household products to groceries to pet food. Boxed is in high growth mode which means attracting and retaining talent is key to success. Chieh believes this is one way to make that happen. And he's funding this program with his own cash and stock.

In short,  the deal starts when Boxed goes public or is purchased. At that point college tuition will be covered for any child of each employee who is on staff the day of that event.  In other words Chieh is saying, help us reach our goal of going public or being acquired (in a presumably really sweet deal for everyone) and I'll help you (parents) reach this goal. Check out Chieh and the specifics of his deal in this interview .

Chieh's action and sincerity felt in the interview speak volumes about his ability to think creatively and generously about reaching his business goals by supporting a significant personal goal for parents among his employees. And I'm just guessing he does some really nice things for the non-parents in his employ, too.

Bravo Boxed.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Our Plan Tools Available to Download

Do you have a favorite tool in Our Plan? Maybe it is the Family Conversation Guide, or the Affordability Decoder.  Or, maybe you'd like a hard copy of each and every tool.

Good news! All of the tools from Our Plan are now available for free download and printing. In the right hand column of your screen you'll see the word "Pages" with "Our Plan Tools" underneath. Click on "Our Plan Tools" and you'll find a list of all the tools to download for your personal use.

Enjoy!  And thanks for visiting!


Saturday, March 14, 2015

NYT's Columnist Frank Bruni Addresses "College Admissions Mania"

We need more messengers like Frank. In a post titled "It's OK", Bruni shares stories of two students from elite high schools with hopes of the Ivies but admission only to "lesser" schools. Initially distraught both students made the best of their opportunities. Now in their mid-twenties, each has flourished. 

Bruni's post ends with a touching letter from two parents to their son, written as he anxiously awaited acceptance decisions. Every child should be so fortunate to have parents like these. In a similar vein, Our Plan includes two "mad-lib" type emails for parents and students that imagine life 5 years after graduation, and reflect on the path that led there.

As Bruni implies, way too much emphasis is placed on college admission - and acceptance at any price; often to the detriment of the life after college that is actually the ultimate point. Thank you Mr. Bruni!

Frank Bruni, is a columnist for The New York Times Opinion and author of the new book "Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania". 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Student Loans and the Economy

Welcome to my new blog on keeping college affordable - one family at a time.

A NYT article today echoed what others have speculated: student debt may be stunting economic growth. Suze Orman, Mark Cuban (Shark Tank), and even Fidelity Investments have raised this flag in recent months.

It is painful enough to see Brandon and Haley struggle to pay back their own student loans and also launch a career and adult life. But what happens when our collective debt impacts the whole economy?

As a former HR VP I've had too much experience with the worst case business scenario when the economy fails to grow or tanks: missed revenue goals, hiring freezes, and eventually layoffs...the upshot of which is fewer dollars for parents to fund college and fewer jobs for new grads. The irony is astounding and sad - but not hopeless.

Families who have already over-borrowed have few options other than to just pay. Families who have yet to over-borrow can pause and ask themselves, "What can WE afford for college right now?"

The only time to ensure you don't over borrow is before committing to big loans. The rest is speculation. So speculate carefully.

See you again soon!