Eight colleges and universities in Northeast Ohio offer college dropout students who owe money to their previous institution a way to pay off that debt while continuing their college education. Eligible students will be contacted this month regarding participation.
The program, touted as the first of its kind, is the Ohio College Comeback Compact, a multi-institutional collaboration with financial and administrative support from both public and private donors including Ithaka S+R, College Now Greater Cleveland, the Lumina Foundation , the Kresge Foundation and the Joyce Foundation. The program was examined as part of a pilot study earlier this year.
The eight participating institutions are: Cleveland State University, Cuyahoga Community College, Kent State University, Lakeland Community College, Lorain County Community College, Stark State College, The University of Akron, and Youngstown State University.
That’s how it works.
Students who have attended one of the eight Compact colleges or universities but have not completed their degree and owe money to their former school are eligible for the Compact.
Interested students first meet with an advisor to find out about their options. Students who then enroll in one of the Compact colleges or universities and complete a semester will have up to $2,500 in debt forgiven that they owe to their former college. Students can receive up to $5,000 in forgiveness if they complete two semesters or earn a degree or certificate.
Once the entire debt (up to $5,000) is forgiven, the student’s former school releases their transcript. And in one particularly helpful option of the program, participating institutions waive money their alumni owe them, even if they re-enroll at a different compact college or university.
To receive debt relief, students must complete at least one semester at a participating college or university and earn at least 6 credits toward an associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, or specified school-approved certificate program during that semester.
Here are some other requirements and provisions of the program:
- Only funds that students owe directly to one of the eight participating colleges or universities (tuition and fees, library fees, parking tickets, etc.) are eligible for a waiver. Federal or state government loans, loans from private lenders, or debt to other colleges and universities are not eligible for the Compact.
- If a student needs only one semester’s worth of credits to complete a degree or certificate, all $5,000 will be canceled in a single semester.
- If a Compact student enrolls in a different college or university than the one he or she previously attended, the college enrolling the student makes an initial payment of $500 to the institution where the student previously attended attended, followed by a $250 payment for students pursuing a second semester.
The Ithaca S+R study estimates that up to 6.6 million people nationwide have a “stranded credits” problem — college credits that students have earned but are inaccessible because their former college used their credentials as collateral for holds an unpaid balance to the institution.
Transcript holds may prevent students from re-enrolling, requesting their transcript for transfer to another college, or using it for employment purposes. According to Ithaca S+R, “Stranded credits disproportionately affect students of color and those from low socioeconomic backgrounds.”
It is estimated that Ohio has approximately 220,000 alumni facing the failed loan problem and that approximately 60,000 reside in Northeast Ohio. Up to 15,000 students are expected to be eligible for the Compact.
“The Ohio Department of Higher Education is committed to working with the outstanding public colleges and universities of Northeast Ohio to make the Ohio College Comeback Compact a success,” said Randy Gardner, Chancellor of the Ohio Department of Higher Education, in Ithaca S+R’s blog describing the program. “Ohio businesses need a skilled workforce, and that need is growing with the unprecedented number of multinational companies moving into our state. The goal of the Ohio College Comeback Compact is to encourage adults to return to college to graduate so they can advance their careers in our growing economy.”
Ohio’s College Comeback Compact is a great idea—a combination of generous politics, smart collaboration, and strategic goals. Other states should follow his example.