Miranda Soppeland started her education at a private college in California before she transferred to the University of Minnesota to study anthropology.
She now has about $140,000 in student loans and it is often hard to keep track of them.
“It’s really hard to play the guessing game with it right now,” Soppeland said. “You just have to cross your fingers and hope you can get something in your field right away so that maybe, just maybe, it won’t affect you that much.”
Recognizing how difficult it can be for students to keep track of their various student loans, scholarships, grants and overall financial health, University officials have revamped the My Finances tab of the MyU student portal to present all this information in one place.
The fruits of this effort have been churning through the minds of officials for more than five years. The overhaul came online over the summer, but many students are just now experiencing it. The new features are believed to be the first of their kind in higher education, according to Bob McMaster, vice provost and dean of the Office of Undergraduate Education.
“A major goal of the University is to reduce debt,” McMaster said. “To do that students need to have rich information about their borrowing environment and their indebtedness.”
Nearly 75 percent of students surveyed in the 2018 Student Experience in the Research University survey said they felt some degree of concern about how they were going to pay for school next year. About 36 percent of students surveyed often worry about their debt and financial circumstances, according to the survey.
McMaster said the main goal of the new tools is to help students be more financially literate so they can know exactly where they stand with their finances. This helps them make more informed decisions about how they spend their money and take on student debt.
“We’re hoping if they see the amount that they’re going to be paying back over the next 10 or 20 years, that they might decide, ‘I don’t need five Starbucks a week, maybe I need two Starbucks a week,” McMaster said.
The revamp will present students with a searchable table where they can see all the grants, scholarships and loans they have received and will show them the details of each. For example, it will tell students the interest rate of their various loans and project what a monthly payment will be when they graduate.
Fourth-year student Celine Cha said she does not really know what her monthly payment will look like when she graduates, and being able to see it all in one place would be great.
Before, students would often have to login to at least three separate sites to see their financial aid and loan information, said Tina Falkner, director of the Office of Student Finance. She said when they did focus groups with students, students told them they rarely visited these sites.
Falkner said her favorite part of the revamp is three bar graphs that display how much time students have left to receive federal Pell Grants and state grants as well as the U Promise Scholarship. Since all of these can only be earned for a certain number of semesters, the graphs show how much a student has used, and approximately how many semesters they can still earn the aid.
“If [a student] is going to run out of gift aid before they complete their degree it is better to start talking now about ‘how are you going to cover that difference?’” Falkner said. “As far as I know, we are the first in the country to display that visually to students, and not have them have to come to us and ask us about it.”
While some of this information has been sent to students in an email in the past, Falkner said these emails can sometimes get lost in a sea of communication that does not always pertain to every student. While they will still send the information in email form, the portal will be another place they can access this information.
Changes could also save students money ensuring they complete required forms, such as the health insurance waiver or reciprocity applications. Until these are completed, colored notices in the portal will be unavoidable for students. If either is not complete, it could lead to significant extra costs for students.
“We don’t want students to be charged the out-of-state rate if they’re eligible for reciprocity,” Falkner said. “From a customer service perspective, it’s the right thing to do for our students.”