August Newsline Articles
1998 Trailblazers Master College Funding
More youngsters than ever before participated in the two Trailblazers camps offered last month. A total of 186 high school juniors from all over Louisiana came together to learn all about financial aid and the college admissions process. Ninety-six attended the camp at Northwestern State University July 19-21 and 90 more blazed the trails at Southeastern Louisiana University July 26-28.
"Attendance was up 35 percent over last year's single Trailblazer camp in Natchitoches," said Jennifer Burton, a Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance (LOSFA) Customer Service Representative and coordinator of both camps. She attributed the increase to the cooperative effort between LOSFA and guidance counselors statewide, who were strongly encouraged to seek out their best and brightest students and nominate them to become Trailblazers.
Blazing the Trail at NSU:
Trailblazers from the north, west and central portions of Louisiana were welcomed by Chris Maggio, NSU's Director of Enrollment Services, Rep. Jimmy Long and Diane Pfeifer, Director of LOSFA's Customer Services Division. After staff introductions were made and squad assignments given out, the kids had their first seminar. "Don't Blow Your TOPS," presented by LOSFA Customer Services Representative Michelle Darling, explored necessary requirements for TOPS, Louisiana's new scholarship program for qualified students. A campus tour, dinner, dancing and a pizza party rounded out the evening.
Monday was spent exploring the financial aid process, the ACT, the Internet, the FAFSA, admissions, career choices and other available scholarships. Presenters included LSU (Shreveport) Director of Financial Aid Ed Chase and
Career Placement Counselor Brian Hirsch; Marilyn Balke of ACT; NSU's Chris Maggio; and Michelle Darling. NSU Admissions Counselor Martha Hooper introduced her school in a session titled "NSU at a Glance," and Theresa Compton, Financial Aid Director at Louisiana College, explored ways of "Cutting Through the Red Tape" of financial aid. Jennifer Burton conducted a session, "Blaze the Trails," designed to formulate methods which Trailblazers could use to take the information they learned at the camp back to their schools. Once the day was over, the students enjoyed fun and games at a barbecue and pool party.
Tuesday's seminars began with Dana Akins, Citibank Account Manager, discussing student loans, followed by wrap-up sessions on Trailblazing strategies, the financial aid timeline and other aid resources.
Raisin' the Roof at SLU
Trailblazers in Hammond, most of whom hailed from south central and eastern Louisiana, followed a similar schedule. Sunday was devoted to introductions, TOPS, meeting and greeting, Monday was spent in detailed exploration of financial aid through seminars and discussions and Tuesday wrapped things up. SLU's Trailblazers were lucky enough to have one of last year's Trailblazers, Micah Bruce, come to talk about strategies she used throughout the year to spread the word among her peers at St. Amant High School. She led the individual squads in generating ideas for them to use at their schools.
Welcoming students to SLU were University President Sally Clausen, Rep. Henry "Tank" Powell, LOSFA Executive Director Jack Guinn and Customer Services Director Diane Pfeifer. Presenters at SLU were LSU Financial Aid Assistant Director Judith Vidrine and Financial Aid Administrator James LaJaunie; Margaret French from ACT; SLU Enrollment Services Assistant Director Ron Anderson, Financial Aid Associate Director Mary Genco and Enrollment Counselor Melissa King; Citibank Account Manager Trinidad Gonzales; Baton Rouge Community College Enrollment Services Coordinator Edwin Litolff; and LOSFA's Jennifer Burton, Sigmund Morel, Gus Wales and Clifton Coles.
The Big Picture
Trailblazers is made possible through the generous volunteer efforts of these individuals and support from their agencies and institutions. In addition, 14 lenders contributed to the success of this year's Trailblazer camps, more than in any of the previous five years. Lenders' donations, which amounted to approximately $6,400, helped finance food, entertainment, prizes, back-packs and other materials enjoyed by the Trailblazers.
Trailblazing doesn't end with the camps. A telephone list has been mailed to all attendees so they may stay in contact with each other. LOSFA also stays in touch with Trailblazers throughout their senior year, reminding them about important dates and suggesting ways to assist classmates in preparing for their first year in college, as well as helping underclassmen.
Plans are already in the works for next year's Trailblazers camps. Keep your eyes peeled, Guidance Counselors, and start thinking about whom you want to represent your school in 1999. Each Trailblazer was also encouraged to seek out a fellow classmate who may attend camp next year. To find out how you can help next year, either by sending a junior or through gifts or donations, call (800) 259-5626, Ext. 1012
You have completed Trailblazer camp and will soon be starting your final year of high school. Remember to talk to your guidance counselor when school begins and let him or her know you are willing to help spread the word about financial aid during this coming school year. Continue to watch Newsline each month for information and activities that will help you and your guidance counselor inform your fellow students as they begin to inquire about funding for higher education. If you need assistance at any time, contact one of LOSFA's Customer Service Representatives at (800) 259-5626, Ext. 1012.
Our sincere thanks to the following institutions for their support and assistance which helped make the 1998 Trailblazers Camps a success.
Bank One Louisiana
Campus Federal Credit Union
Chase Manhattan Bank
|Deposit Guaranty Bank||
Education Finance Group
|First United Bank|
|Louisiana Education Loan Authority||Nations Bank|
Union Planters Bank
|Whitney National Bank|
NEWS AND UPDATES
New Lender: Educaid, lender ID #83005, is now participating as a lender in LOSFA's loanprograms. Headquartered in Sacramento, Calif., Educaid will service its own loans. Customer service is available at (800) EDUCAID or via their website at www.educaid.com.
The Office of Student Financial Aid at the University of New Orleans informs us that Dinorah Cobos-Mastascuso has been named Assistant Director for Scholarships and Fiscal Operations. Her promotion became effective May 1, 1998. Also effective May 1, 1998 is the promotion of Denise Spellman to Counseling Department Manager. Effective July 1, 1998, Shelly Balis has been promoted to Coordinator of Computer Systems, Leslie Henry has been promoted to Coordinator of Fiscal Operations and Jennifer McNeel has been promoted to Coordinator of Scholarships and Exemptions.
Stanley J. Jacobs has replaced Laura Leach on the Louisiana Student Financial Assistance Commission (LASFAC) and on the Louisiana Tuition Trust Authority (LATTA). Last fall, Jacobs accepted an appointment by Gov. M.J. "Mike" Foster to be a member at large of the LSU Board of Supervisors for a term that will end June 1, 2002. He has also been a past president of the Tiger Athletic Foundation (TAF) and has served on the LSU Athletic Council, the Chancellor's Advisory Committee and the Tiger Athletic Advisory Board, as well as being chairperson of the Golden Century Campaign. He is a senior partner in the law firm of Jacobs, Manual, Kain, & Bernberg in New Orleans.
Stacy McQuillin is the new Assistant Counsel in the Legal/Policy Division. Stacy comes from the Child Support Enforcement Division of the Louisiana Department of Social Services where she was a staff attorney for four years. She is a newlywed of just six weeks, and her husband, Mark, coaches football at LSU. Welcome to LOSFA, Stacy!
Be on the lookout for your 1998-99 Louisiana State Student Incentive Grant (SSIG) applications, reports the Scholarship/Grant Division. Applications will be sent to all schools participating in SSIG in the 1997-98 school year and to any schools who wrote and requested participation for 1998-99.
Remember: the area code for the Baton Rouge area changed from 504 to 225 this month. When making long distance calls to the new area code, you may use either the new code or the old code until April 5, 1999. After that date, calls made to the Baton Rouge area must be dialed using 225.
Holiday: LOSFA's offices will be closed Monday, September 7, for the Labor Day holiday.
Thanks for your patience: We are aware that many callers have experienced difficulty in getting through to LOSFA on the toll-free service lines because of the overwhelming number of TOPS phone calls which have flooded into the agency. The Customer Services Division suggests that, as an alternative, customers E-mail one of the Customer Services Representatives listed in the Information Section of our website, located at www.osfa.state.la.us, or that callers phone one of the representatives directly and leave a voice mail message explaining the nature of their call. They will receive a prompt return call.
TOPS Test Deadline Extended
High school graduates from the classes of 1997 and 1998 who did not take the American College Test (ACT) prior to the date of their high school graduation, have through the October 24, 1998, national test date to take the test for the purpose of qualifying for Louisiana's new Tuition Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS). This extended deadline for completing the ACT Test also applies to students who did not take the test prior to completing a home-study program and to those students whose only ACT Test prior to their high school graduation was a special test referred to as a "residual test."
The Louisiana Student Financial Assistance Commission, the body responsible for administering the TOPS Program, extended the deadline at a recent meeting to ensure that all students who were first made eligible for the program during a special legislative session which concluded in April and who had not taken an ACT Test prior to graduation would have an opportunity to qualify for the program.
October 24, 1998, is the next national test date for taking the ACT at a Louisiana site. If a student achieves the minimum qualifying ACT composite score of 19 and meets all other academic and non-academic requirements of the program, then the student will be eligible for a TOPS award retroactive to the fall semester of 1998. TOPS will pay an amount equal to tuition for qualified students to attend a Louisiana college, university, vocational-technical college, community college or private college or university. Students with higher grade-point averages and higher ACT scores can receive stipends of up to $800 a year in addition to tuition.
The regular deadline for registering for the October 24 ACT Test is an application postmarked no later than September 18, 1998. The late filing date, for which a late fee will be charged, is October 2. For those students residing near the Texas border, a national test is scheduled to be administered in Texas on September 26, 1998. The deadline for submitting an application to take the test at a Texas location is August 21, with a late deadline of September 4.
Students taking the official ACT at a location outside Louisiana must show on their test application a permanent address in Louisiana or a high school code for a school located in Louisiana. Otherwise, LOSFA will not receive the student's ACT score for processing.
Registration for the ACT may be done online at www.act.org/aap/REGIST/elecreg.html with a MasterCard or Visa. Students should read the instructions carefully as certain restrictions apply for online registration.
To be considered for a TOPS Award for academic year 1998-99, all high school graduates from years 1997 and 1998 must file the 1998-99 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This application is available from the guidance counselor at most high schools, college financial aid offices or LOSFA. Once a student is awarded TOPS, to continue in the program the FAFSA must be filed annually.
Some Scholarships Can't be Combined with TOPS
TOPS' provisions generally allow awards to be combined with financial aid from other programs as long as the combined awards do not exceed the student's total cost of attendance. Other aid programs, however, may have provisions which restrict the aid they provide from being combined with a tuition award such as TOPS.
A typical example is a student eligible for both TOPS and tuition assistance from the state's vocational rehabilitation program. According to a decision by the Department of Social Services' Louisiana Rehabilitation Services, if a student qualifies for rehabilitation services and TOPS, tuition assistance may not be provided by that office.
Whether other educational costs may be covered will depend upon the individual student's rehabilitation program. Students who find themselves in this situation should contact Louisiana Rehabilitation Services at (225) 925-4168 for guidance.
Students who are eligible for TOPS and for tuition assistance or a waiver of tuition from another program, should check with the financial aid office at the school they plan to attend to determine what may be included in their aid packages.
TOPS Certifications Underway
Initial processing of the state's TOPS (Tuition Assistance Program for Students) scholarship recipients was successfully completed August 10, when the first master roster, which identified the names of 13,380 TOPS recipients, was transmitted to colleges, universities, vocational-technical schools and community colleges.
Award letters were mailed August 12 and 13 to all TOPS recipients on this first roster.
LOSFA will continue to produce master rosters every Monday until all processing is complete. This first master roster did not include the names of former TAP (Tuition Assistance Plan) and Louisiana Honors Scholarship awardees who are being grandfathered into TOPS. These names will appear on later rosters.
The programming necessary to create this master list was successfully produced in-house in fewer than four months to meet LOSFA's self-imposed deadline of August 10. The task of programming included incorporating major changes made to TOPS during the first extraordinary session of the Louisiana Legislature which ended in April.
Students who believe that they should have received a TOPS award but who were not notified should call Customer Service at (800) 259-5626, Ext. 1012.
Phasing Out TAP and Honors
The advent of the Tuition Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS) has meant phasing out the Louisiana Honors Scholarship and the Louisiana Tuition Assistance Plan (TAP). Students previously receiving these awards and meeting the continuation requirements for them are being "grand-fathered" into TOPS. Honors Scholarship recipients will receive the TOPS Performance Award and TAP recipients will receive the TOPS Opportunity Award.
Recipients of either Honors or TAP will be limited to the corresponding TOPS awards. They will not be able to accept higher or lower TOPS awards.
All former TAP and Honors awardees must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in order to determine eligibility under TOPS rules. Only a recipient who is changing schools or who has changed his or her name, address or telephone number should have to contact the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance (LOSFA). Otherwise, students should simply fill out the FAFSA.
LOSFA began administering TAP in 1990. TAP awarded tuition to state residents who attended Louisiana public colleges or universities and met specific academic standards and financial need criteria. Under the TOPS Opportunity Award, awardees receive tuition to a state public college or university. Those attending private colleges receive the weighted average tuition at comparable public schools.
Scholarships under the Louisiana Honors program were first given out in the 1992-93 academic year. Awards were for basic tuition costs at a Louisiana public college or university or public postsecondary technical institute. Recipients who chose to attend one of Louisiana's accredited private colleges were awarded that college's tuition or an amount equal to the highest tuition charged at a public college or university, whichever was less. As TOPS Performance recipients, former Honors awardees attending public colleges will receive an amount equal to tuition plus an annual stipend of $400. Those attending independent or private colleges receive the weighted average tuition at comparable public schools plus $400.
TAP and Honors recipients will continue to receive TOPS for a total of five years or 10 semesters according to the provisions of the original award. They remain subject to the continuation requirements of the original program.
Enroll Now to START Saving for College
The 1998 open enrollment for Louisiana's START Saving Program is underway, and families thinking about sending their children or grandchildren to college should sign up now. Savings invested in the START Program may qualify for tuition assistance grants to further defray postsecondary educational costs while earning interest exempt from state taxes. Accounts may be opened for children of any age.
"We're encouraging families to begin investing right away," said START Saving Program Manager Juanita Rougeau. "The longer money is invested in the program, the more opportunity savings have to grow."
START earnings are exempt from state tax and are tax deferred at the federal level. Tuition assistance grants are added to savings based on the Account Owner's income. These grants increase the amount of funds available in an account for tuition, fees, books, room, board, supplies and equipment required for enrollment or attendance at any eligible postsecondary institution."Opening an account is free, so the entire family contribution goes toward these college expenses," said Rougeau.
More than one account may be opened per child. That means grandparents as well as parents can participate in the START Savings Program. November 1 is the deadline for enrollment this year. Newborns may be enrolled at any time up to their first birthday.
Anyone needing an application should call (800) 259-5626, Ext. 1012, or write START, P.O. Box 91271, Baton Rouge, La., 70821-9271.
Collections Streamlines Operations
The Collection Division's Collectors are:
Accountants in LOSFA's
Contrary to popular belief about defaulted student loans, only about 10 percent of all loans in repayment actually go into default. Since many defaulted loans are eventually paid off, you can see that the vast majority of student loans are repaid. As the state's designated guarantor for student loans, the Louisiana Office of Student Financial Assistance (LOSFA) buys defaulted loans from lenders and sends them to its Collections Section.
Collections, led by Administrator Byron Henderson, is one of the two largest sections of LOSFA. Eighteen staffers attempt through telephone calls, letters and wage garnishment to collect loan repayments.
"As the chief revenue generating section in the agency, Collections is under continuous pressure to perform at a high level to collect dollars as well as provide service to borrowers," said Henderson. "We continue to look for strategies to improve our collection efforts."
"We are required to send a letter to the borrower during the first 30 days after we buy a loan," said Assistant Collections Administrator Barbara Melton. "We are not required to make a diligent telephone attempt during this first 30 days, but we do."
Ten collectors use the Collection Automation Processing System (CAPS) collection software system to send out letters, make telephone calls and track accounts. Cindy Forbes of Pre-Claims supervised the automatic telephone dialing system shared by both nighttime and daytime crews of Pre-Claims and Collections. Up to five collectors use the dialer to make outgoing calls to tell borrowers when their last payment was made and when the next payment is due. They log about 100 calls per day. CAPS records the date of the call, the amount of payment and comments made by the caller or the operator. Everything that was transacted is recorded and dated for future reference. LOSFA will acquire a new autodialer system to be installed September 21, 1998.
"If the borrower does not begin making payments within sixty days after we buy the claim," Melton said, Awe check the records of the Department of Labor (DOL). If the borrower is on their list, it means he has a current job. We then set up an Administrative Wages Garnishment (AWG), whereby we pull a maximum of 10 percent of wages from the borrower's paycheck.
"If he is not on the DOL list, then we attempt to collect for 120 more days. We must send two forceful collection letters and make one diligent attempt to reach the borrower by telephone. At the end of that time, we must refer the loan to a collection agency. They're allowed to keep the account for 365 days and, if payments are not being made, it comes back to us. Every year the loan goes unpaid and the borrower remains jobless, we send the account to another contractor. Eventually, the Department of Education requires us to subrogate the loan to them, at which time they take over the loan and, if they collect, gather the fee."
AWG has a profoundly impressive record. Honor Stapleton is in charge of this unit and she is proudest of the unit's progression. The first month AWG was in existence, May 1995, it cleared a little over $200 per month for the agency. In June 1998, AWG contributed nearly $432,000 per month to the repayment of debts from garnished wages.
AWG is the section that deals directly with the Department of Labor and mails the letter giving the borrower 30 days to make a payment. AWG issues the withholding order to the borrower's employer, which requires the employer to comply with the order and remit withheld wages to the AWG Unit on a monthly basis.
"It's gotten easier since we began using the new Notice Prior to Wage Withholding (NPWW) form," Stapleton said. AThis requires the borrower to sign a repayment agreement that makes it clear in writing that we can notify the employer at any time, that we can garnish wages and that we don't have to go to court to do it.
"The hardest thing about working in the AWG unit is that it's the last ditch effort on our part to collect the unpaid debt. By that time, we are dealing with irate borrowers who can't believe we're taking the steps we're taking. We don't go to extremes to collect on unpaid loans, but we have to meet the requirements imposed by federal regulations."
The Accounting Section acts as a "clearinghouse" for Collections, performing such diverse duties as posting dollars collected from voluntary payments, outside and inside collectors, changing statuses and writing reports. Accountant Supervisor Ida Minor supervises a staff of five accounting specialists who perform this critical maintenance work, and she produces federal quarterly and monthly reports.
Collections sometimes seizes federal and state tax refunds in order to pay off student loans, and the Accounting section handles these refunds, posting fees received and refunding fees which have been overpaid. It pays collection agency commissions and verifies payment invoices. It collects money owed and refunds closed school discharge payments to lenders while receiving refunds from the Department of Education.
Accounting works closely with LOSFA's Fiscal section, using the Integrated Statewide Information System (ISIS), the new state system of accounting, to reconcile cash balances such as deposits and refunds. Accounting also handles the Automatic Clearing House (ACH) payment system, where borrowers can arrange to have their loans paid monthly with money taken directly from their bank accounts.
What is Henderson proudest of? "Over the past two state fiscal years, we have exceeded projections. During this time, we have seen an increase in collections from $9.7 million in 1995-96 to $13.1 million in 1997-98."
Common Manual Updated July 1998
The 1998 update of the Common Manual was published in early July. This update is a complete reprint and includes all policy changes and enhancements approved by the Governing Board through April 1998.
In addition, a summary of policy changes approved from May 1997 through April 1998 was included with the update to help schools and lenders locate and review changes made since the manual's July 1997 update. Changes with effective dates before January 1998 are noted in appendix H of the manual. Appendix H serves as a resource for schools, lenders and guarantors, tracking changes in the FFELP and Common Manual policy.
There is an error in Appendix F of this update. The backs of the EDU and New EDU deferment forms were inadvertently switched in the update's printed version. LPM L98-8 was mailed to lenders with corrected versions of those forms so that they can be placed in the Common Manual. Incorrect versions should be destroyed.
Common Claim Initiative (CCI) Update
The Policy Committee completed its work on Common Claim Initiative (CCI) policies related to the fourth and final phase of the CCI, the supplemental claim phase. The completed third phase of the CCI establishes common policies relating to the guarantor's review of skip tracing activities. Some data collection requirements for both the pre-claim and claim standard formats are effective for loans first disbursed on or after September 1, 1998. In addition, policies that implement the standard skip trace review process are effective for loans on which a notice of invalid address or telephone, as applicable, is received on or after September 1, 1998.
The Common Claim and Common Preclaim forms and instructions were distributed to lenders via LPM L98-6 dated June 19, 1998.
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