This is the transcript for Episode 2 of the “Title IV + More Podcast for Utah Counselors and Educators” from Katie Wornek, Jacob Newman, and Bryan Lee at StepUp to Higher Education Utah. To listen to this episode or any other episodes of the podcast, please visit this link.
Bryan: “You’re listening to Title IV + More, StepUp Utah’s podcast for counselors and educators.”
Jacob: “I’m Jacob Newman and I’m a Paying for College Expert with StepUp Utah. Welcome to our Title IV + More podcast for this week.”
Katie: “Yea, exciting! I’m Katie Wornek and I am also a Paying for College Expert with StepUp.”
Bryan: “Hi, everyone. I’m Bryan. I am the social and digital media guy at StepUp Utah. Welcome to the podcast and we’ll get started with our news headlines for this week.”
Jacob: “So we have some exciting news to share with you kind of local and national news. So for the first piece of local news, just to let you all know, Utah experienced the highest FAFSA percentage increase in the nation. So this is pretty amazing. From the 2016-2017 FAFSA cycle to the 2017-2018 FAFSA cycle, Utah saw a 33% increase in filing among high school seniors. So this is 10 percentage points higher than the second place state, which was Wyoming. Wyoming of all places. Who knows what’s going on there. They’re probably doing some good stuff, too. And this really couldn’t have happened without the tireless efforts and dedication of our counselors and our access groups and we’re just really so grateful for all you do to help us increase FAFSA completion because this really removes those barriers to higher education in terms of, you know, a lot of students don’t know how they’re going to pay for college and FAFSA completion, if they’re able to complete the FAFSA, really opens a lot of doors for them to be able to pay for things. There is a blog that was actually published by the National College Access Network, or NCAN. And you can find this blog in the transcript. We’ll have a link in the transcript.”
Katie: “Yea, one thing I just want to say about that real quick, Jacob, is historically, over the last couple of years, Utah has had the lowest FAFSA completion percentage in the nation. So for us to have such a huge increase, it really just resonates with me because I know that it’s the good work the counseling teams are doing and we’re helping students access higher education in a way that we never have before. So that’s really impressive to hear that we’ve risen to the top of the improvement list.”
Jacob: “We’re super excited about that. And then in terms of a little bit more national news, Secretary Betsy DeVos gave an interview on higher ed in August and we’re going to provide a link to that in the transcript. So if you want to kind of read about some directions that she’s looking to take you can go ahead and find that link in the transcript. And now, going back to some more local news, this is actually really interesting and this is really good for us to hear, is that the average student debt in Utah continues to be the lowest in the country. So, a recent Lend.edu survey reveals that among the 2016 graduating cohort in Utah, Utah students have the lowest average debt in the country (about $18,000 per student). The national average is quite a bit higher. And this is just really interesting and I think we’re going to maybe have a little bit of a roundtable discussion about this and kind of talk about why we think it might be this low.”
Bryan: “Yea, I mean, it’s pretty amazing as a Utah student to be able to have the opportunity to not have to borrow money to pay for college. I mean, you hear about the complaints nationwide – people that have six figures of student debt – to be as low as $18,000 in Utah is a very great thing and we’re very lucky to have such an opportunity here to not have to get saddled with debt.”
Katie: “Yea, I think it’s, it kind of boils down to the fact that we have, comparatively, some of the lowest costs of attendance out of any colleges in the country and we don’t sacrifice quality for that because we have great colleges and universities that offer amazing degrees and wonderful experiences and really prepare students for their career paths. But I also think it has to do with the fact that Utah has such a robust scholarship landscape. I know a lot of students apply for national scholarships, but there’s a ton of state and local and institutional scholarships that are available that students are taking advantage of and I know that counselors do a lot of good work to collect that information and provide it in the counseling office. And that’s one of our goals, as well, is to start aggregating data about scholarships around the state so that students can come to a database on our website and start to check that out a little bit more.”
Jacob: “And just for kind of a perspective in terms of what percentage is borrowing student loans in Utah, it’s only about 39% of students, and nationally it’s about 59%. So we know that the loan student loan can be kind of like this scary monster that people are really scared of, but if you think about it, if students prepare in advance and they know all of their options and they do have to take out student loans, just remember that they should borrow wisely. And $18,000, that’s really not that much when you compare it to the national average. So, if you ever have questions about student loans from your students or anything like that, just totally feel free to reach out to us and we can provide more details about, you know, what it means to borrow, how to possibly avoid borrowing, and other information that would be important to know I think.”
Katie: “Yea, one last thing on that $18,000 figure. I know it sounds like a lot of money because all of us to some degree or another are a little bit debt adverse. It’s scary to take on debt. And it didn’t really outline this in the article so much, but I assume that a lot of that student loan debt is federal student loan debt instead of private. So these students are borrowing wisely, like you said, because they’re taking out loans from the federal government that, in a lot of cases, are probably subsidized, so the federal government is paying interest while they’re in school full-time. They have lower interest rates that are locked in, so they’re, I think that students that are borrowing are probably taking advantage of those opportunities instead of the private loan sector.”
Bryan: “Shout-out to all the parents helping their students save for college and encouraging their students to save for themselves and to, you know, help to further bring that potential borrowing down.”
Jacob: “Yea. And now we’re going to maybe transition to the events that we have going on. Bryan’s going to take that away for us.”
Bryan: “Yes indeed, we have some exciting events going on. These are in the month of September leading up to October. One exciting thing you can let your students know about is the UESP Make Your Mark Bookmark Contest. UESP is the Utah Educational Savings Plan, it’s Utah’s 529 college savings account, and every few months really they run contests or competitions for Utah students and families (in this case for Kindergarteners through 12th graders) where they can just enter to, whether it’s design a bookmark in this case, or participate in some sort of contest to win college savings accounts. For the Make Your Mark Contest, students are invited to design a bookmark that UESP will then mass produce some of those designs, so your designs will be available to all of Utah. And along with that, the winners also win a $1,000 college savings account, which is pretty much like a $1,000 scholarship for college. Again, there will be 8 winners, that’s quite a few. You can encourage your students to apply for that and find more information at UESP.org and on our blog at StepUpUtah.com/Blog. That’s running from the 1st through the 29th, so almost the entire month of September. And then, just a reminder that the 4th of September is Labor Day, so don’t show up that day. And then, let’s see, the 4th through the 22nd again is when our StepUp online FAFSA Boot Camps are running. And those are our online trainings about the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and how you can help your students complete and submit that application. If you want more information about that or would like to sign up, we just encourage you to email our Outreach Officers at email@example.com. And then, let’s see, we have on the 26th and the 27th we have some in-person Boot Camps as well, so if the online Boot Camps aren’t really your preferred way to learn you can learn from us in person at Weber State University. And then, let’s see, we have two more events coming up. On the 29th is of course the USHE Counselor Conference, the annual conference that the Utah System of Higher Education puts on each year. And then starting in October, our FAFSA Completion Open Houses will begin and there will be many of those each month all throughout the state. If you would like to find one that is happening near you to let your students know about, just visit StepUpUtah.com/Events. And that is it for our events in September leading into October. So now we will go to our FAFSA Tip of the Week.”
Katie: “Yea, thanks Bryan. One thing on Labor Day – didn’t you actually show up to work one time on Pioneer Day?”
Bryan: “Yes. Yes I have.”
Katie: “It happens.”
Bryan: “I’ve been known to show up on holidays.”
Katie: “Yes, just mark it on your calendars, because yea, Bryan can attest, that happens sometimes. So, yea, our tip of the week. So, what we want to do here is, every month we’ll kind of have a theme about the FAFSA. For September, our theme is going to be how to create and manage an FSA ID, which is the username and password for filling out the FAFSA. So, next episode, we’ll start in on that. But for this week, the tip is really just talking about who should be filling out the FAFSA and that is everybody because American students leave over $2 billion in federal student aid on the table every year simply because they’re not filling out the FAFSA. So, anyone who is planning to attend a college, which, in our mind sometimes I think we get trapped into thinking that’s a 4-year school, but federal student aid can be used at any accredited school, from technical and vocational programs to a 4-year university. So if any students are thinking about going that route, they should apply. Even if they plan to serve a mission, or join the Peace Corps, or do military service first, we know that sometimes plans can change, so it’s good to have a backup solution if these students need it. Additionally, when they come back from that service, they can fill out a renewal FAFSA, which is a lot faster than doing the original one. And, remember, the 2018-19 FAFSA will be available starting October 1 this year. And, since colleges and universities have their own limited budgets for their institutional aid (not necessarily just the federal aid, but their own funds), they want to make sure, students want to make sure that they’re applying by the priority deadline of their college, which you can find in our College Guide that will be distributed soon, or you can order them online. You can also find it on the financial aid websites of any college and university. So, the sooner your students fill out this application, the better. And if you have any questions about the FAFSA, you can attend those Boot Camps we talked about or utilize any of our resources online. You can also always reach out to us on social media, email, or phone.”
Jacob: “And just another little plug, I think a myth that we have here in Utah is that, people feel like if they file the FAFSA they may be required to take the aid or they’re not going to file because they don’t feel like they’ll qualify. Remember, it’s just an application. You’re not obligated to take out any student loans because of this application that you filled out, and you’ll never know what you’ll qualify for until you file. So just feel free to file it, even if you think, “Oh, my parents make too much money” or something like that. That might be something common that you hear from parents is that, “You know, we make too much money to qualify for financial aid” but that’s a myth. You never know until you file.”
Katie: “Very true. Thanks, Jacob. So now I’m going to turn it actually back over to you for your interview with Erika Norton, who is the program manager for Utah Scholars.”
Jacob: So we’re super excited to have Erika Norton, the Utah Scholars Program Manager here today. Erika and I are great friends and if we laugh too much during this interview, just forgive us. We’re just really excited that she is here with us.
Erika: It’s because we went to the same high school.
Jacob: Yeah. Go Eagles.
Erika: Skyline Eagles.
Jacob: So we’re super excited to be with Erika today, so here’s Erika. We’re just going to ask her a few questions. Erika, tell us a bit about what Utah Scholars has been in the past and what your role entails?
Erika: I’m excited to be here and talk about Utah Scholars. Utah scholars started in 2006 and when it first started, it was an outreach initiative of the Commissioner’s Office of Higher Education and really the main goal was to get students to be more prepared for college by taking a specific curriculum. That curriculum in the past was four years of English, four years of math, three and a half years of social science, three years of a lab-based science, and two years of a world language. If students completed those requirements, they were able to earn the Utah Scholars certificate and medallion, they could put that on their resume, and they were more prepared for college.
Jacob: Awesome! So it looks like the program is going through some changes. Can you tell us what some of those changes will be for this upcoming school year?
Erika: Yeah, so we’re really excited about the changes. One thing to note is that in 2008, the Regents’ Scholarship adopted the curriculum of the Utah Scholars for those classes and that sort of thing. In the past there’s been some confusion about what’s the difference between the two programs and we’ve gotten a lot of feedback from parents and students and counselors about what their needs are and what they want. And one of the big takeaways from listening to those people was that they wanted checklists that they could look at that would tell them what they needed to do each year. We do have grade-by-grade checklists on our website at stepuputah.com, but we’ve now taken those checklists and incorporate it into our program. One of the big things is that instead of it being based on those classes, our program is based on those college readiness tasks called, “Next Steps.” That’s the big difference. And the other thing is that we do require a 3.0 GPA to complete the program and be recognized for that.
Erika: Wait! One more change, sorry, is that the name is changing. We used to be Utah Scholars initiative and now we will be called the StepUp Utah Scholars program so it fits under our StepUp Utah umbrella. We’re excited to be a part of that.
Jacob: Awesome. These next steps. I want to ask a follow-up question about that. What are some of these Next Steps that students might be able to do to prepare for college?
Erika: Yeah. Great question! Some of those things include applying for scholarship, taking AP classes, filing the FAFSA, going on a college tour. We have a wide variety and students need to complete twenty of those Next Steps from 8th grade to their senior year.
Jacob: Awesome. It sounds like they can make a college-going plan of their own. It’s a little less rigid than before.
Erika: Yeah! There’s a lot of flexibility with it. So if you are a student that doesn’t want to take AP classes, there’s other activities that you can participate in for sure.
Jacob: So what can counselors do to encourage participation or get their students involved with the program?
Erika: There’s a few things. If you’re a junior high or middle school teacher, the biggest thing is just letting your students know that the program exists: getting them thinking about StepUp Utah Scholars, encouraging them to visit our website, stepuputah.com, and the biggest thing is getting them to sign up to be a part of the program. When a student signs up, they start receiving email messages from us and our StepUp monthly newsletter, which is a great resource that I love telling people about because in that newsletter there’s just tips and information on how to prepare and pay for college and scholarships they can apply for so we can keep them on track throughout their high school career. The other thing is for high school counselors, I would say the biggest thing is it’s not too late for students to participate in the program. Even though we have guidelines of what things you should be doing in 8th grade and 10th grade, if a student joins in the 11th grade, they can complete the tasks at any time. We’re flexible in that. We just want to get kids thinking about that and participating in the program. And then, one last thing is that if there are schools that want to get involved that aren’t partner schools already, they can reach out to me and we can get StepUp Utah Scholars in their school.
Jacob: And what’s the best way to reach out to you?
Erika: My email, which is firstname.lastname@example.org. And we can link that in the show notes, correct?
Jacob: That’s correct.
Erika: Yeah I just know that people who do podcasts say that, so I wanted to say it too.
Jacob: Well thanks so much and we look forward to hearing more information about how it goes for this upcoming school year.
Erika: Yeah! Thanks! We’re super excited.
Bryan: “Alright, well, thank you for listening to the Title IV + More podcast this week, everyone. What you can expect in next week’s episode is another FAFSA Tip of the Week. This one will be on the FSA ID. We’ll give some information and insight about that. We’ll also have more upcoming news and events and an interview with StepUp’s Outreach Coordinator, Richard Gonzalez. If you haven’t met him yet, he’s a great guy and very passionate about helping people access college. As always, we encourage your feedback to our podcast, to our outreach efforts, and just to any way we can better help you help your students prepare and pay for college. So if you have any feedback, if you have any questions, please reach out to us at email@example.com. And, of course, if you have any counselor spotlights or nominations for grat work counselors in your department have been doing, please also contact us and let us know about it so we can give them a shout-out on our podcast and social media. And again, thanks for listening. We will see you next time. This has been the StepUp Utah Title IV + More podcast. Special thanks to Bensound for the royalty-free music. See you next time.