Don’t borrow money that you don’t need. That’s the message of a successful new experiment being carried out in Fort Lauderdale at Broward College. In just over two years, the South Florida community college has helped its 65,000 students cut their loan debt by $11.5 million.

“Student loan over-borrowing can put you in so much debt that you have a hard time living your life around it,” said Angelia Millender, Broward College vice president of student affairs and enrollment management.

At Broward College beginning in 2008, Millender and her team set about crafting ways to teach students to reduce the amount of unsubsidized loans they took out.  College officials had observed that many first-time student borrowers took out loans beyond what was actually needed for education, setting them up for heavy debt loads later. Thanks to a federal call for new, experimental approaches to reduce heavy borrowing of unsubsidized student loans, Broward College was empowered to act.

“We created robust debt management workshops that went beyond the federal guidelines.  It turned into education for students about loan debts and what it means to repay them,” Millender said. “Our workshops continued through the semester and were more of a comprehensive approach than a one-time thing.”

Their results?  The number of unsubsidized loans were slashed from 4,317 to 1,086 in just two years, representing a massive cut in student debt.  “Students began to start leveraging whether they really needed the money versus whether they wanted the money. They looked at getting a part-time job,” Millender said.

“We have about 65,000 students at Broward College.  After this initiative, we had only two students issue complaints about the process,” Millender said.  “You can see they were over-borrowing. If they weren’t, we would have had chaos. It was amazing how our students tolerated it. It was an ‘aha’ moment that said the loan was not needed.”

Millender did note that the program does make exceptions for students in high-cost programs such as aviation or nursing, where clinical rotations often prohibit students from taking outside jobs.

In a collective approach that local college access networks should take note of, Millender has shared her lessons about reducing student loan debt and financial literacy with local Broward organizations that work directly with high school students, such as the PACE Center for Girls and the United Way.

“It’s incumbent upon us  as a higher education institution to get the message out so we’re all  singing the same song,” Millender said.  “Colleges and universities have to bring those stakeholders to the table to advocate for change. We’re all in it to win it.”

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