By Adam Owens
April 15, 2020 at 5:00 am ET
In the 21st century workforce, a college degree is a necessary requirement for jobs with salaries high enough to support families. Tuition has increased by 25 percent over the past 10 years, placing an undue financial burden on working families across America. These families know the cost of college is exceedingly high, and, for the luckiest among them, saving for their children’s education often starts when they are born.
In 2014, I started the Student Loan Assistance Center because I was all too familiar with the hardship the cost of college was placing on students and their families. Our goal was and always will be to provide students and grads with the knowledge they need to achieve their dreams of obtaining and paying for a higher education.
The U.S. Department of Education student loan process is daunting for the 44.5 million federal student loan borrowers who owe $1.64 trillion in student loan debt. More than 11.1 percent of the borrowers are 91-plus days delinquent. The Dept. of Education repayment process is difficult to understand, and even harder to navigate. SLAC exists to simplify this messy process; however, in pursuit of our goal, we haven’t always gotten it 100 percent right.
In the early stages of the company, navigating the complicated student loan process was a challenge, to say the least, and we suffered growing pains. SLAC came under the Federal Trade Commission’s scrutiny for these growing pains, and, while we had already resolved many of the claims, SLAC appreciates the role the FTC plays in policing our industry, ultimately challenging us to become a better company and a better industry.
Recently, after a two-year investigation, SLAC and the FTC reached a settlement, which allows us to continue helping graduates and their families in their efforts to repay the student loans needed to achieve their degrees, a purpose we remain passionate about. I am proud of the work SLAC has done, before, during and now after our encounter with the FTC to fix our previous mistakes.
Specifically, we redefined the purpose of our company in 2017 to clearly indicate we were not a debt relief company. Our marketing since this transition focuses on clearly communicating what we provide — document preparation and application assistance. To ensure our entire company complied, we reorganized our management, hired a third party to monitor our customer service team for client calls, and counseled and even terminated employees who did not meet our expectations.
I began this company inspired by friends and family who were simultaneously saddled with debt and befuddled by the Dept. of Education’s student loan system. At SLAC, we believe no graduate should start their adult life with a financial albatross, so we set out to fill the gap by aiding the students who needed it most. In the graduating class of 2019, 69 percent of the graduates had student loans with an average balance of $29,900, and 14 percent of their parents had borrowed another $37,200.
To date, SLAC has helped tens of thousands of students across America, many of whom were first-generation college students. We have worked diligently to provide the opportunity of attending college to young adults, with a belief that finances should not prevent students from achieving a degree. Despite the challenges we have faced, we continue to provide important insights and expertise about the complicated student loan repayment process to the borrowers we serve.
Moving forward, we aim to continue our leadership in the industry. I believe my company can serve as a role model for others looking to help students reach their full potential. With the knowledge we have gained from engaging with the FTC, and hopefully a clearer and better process for student loan repayment, SLAC is committed to being part of the solution to the challenges of students and their families financing their post-secondary education.
Adam Owens is chief executive of the Student Loan Assistance Center.
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