Financial Aid Director Sherri Avery explains how the overhaul of the federal student loan program affects Brandeis students

Sherri Avery

President Obama recently signed legislation that revamped the federal student loan program. The big change is that banks are now cut out of the equation, meaning colleges and universities must convert to a direct lending system (you can learn more about the overhaul here). In Brandeis’ case, that’s not an issue, since the university had been participating in direct lending for more than a decade. Still, there are changes that will affect some of the 75 percent of undergraduate students here who receive loans. BrandeisNOW talked with Sherri Avery, the director of financial aid in the Office of Student Financial Services, for the details.

BrandeisNOW: How does the overhaul of the federal student loan program impact Brandeis students who are receiving loans?

Sherri Avery: The good news is it doesn’t affect Brandeis students. The law basically says that any schools that were processing Stafford loans through banks, where banks were acting as the lender, as the conduit to the government, they can no longer do that. But Brandeis has been participating in the direct loan program, which is what the government is telling all these other schools they need to do by July 1; we’ve been participating in that program since 1996. Nationally, we were in the one-third of schools that had been doing direct lending, but more had been converting this year since the writing was basically on the wall. So nothing will change. It will be business as usual for our students, which is a great position for us to be in.

And we had moved to this program a long time ago because we felt students got their money quicker, that they didn’t have to go out and find their own lenders, they didn’t have to do promissory notes every year- it was just a really easy process. We’re already in it, so nothing will change.

The good news is that because the government is doing this reform, it’s going to offer up more money in Pell Grant funds for students, which is definitely good news. And it’s even going to open up Pell Grants to students who wouldn’t have been eligible last year. So they’ve expanded it to make more low-income students eligible for the Pell Grant, and we just got that notice this morning, so there may be students who didn’t get it this year that will get it next year.

BrandeisNOW: Since more students may now be available for the Pell grant, but may not know much about it, can you tell me more about the program?

SA: Sure. Pell Grant is an entitlement program from the federal government that, if you’ve filed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and if your family contribution is below a certain threshold, you’re guaranteed this grant on a sliding scale. There’s a point- a lot of students got caught where if you’re even one dollar over the threshold, you don’t get the Pell Grant. So they’ve increased the threshold for that. And they’ve also increased the maximum amount of the Pell grant from last year- last year was $5350, now it’s $5550.

BrandeisNOW: For any students who are going to be coming to Brandeis next year, can you explain how the loan process works here?

SA: The process is pretty easy. They have to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which is the application for all of the direct loans. Once they file that, the only thing they need to do is wait for contact from our student loan coordinator, who tells them to go online- they sign the promissory note online, they do entrance counseling online, and they only need to do all that once. So they do it the first year, and they don’t have to do it again. They have to file the FAFSA every year, but in terms of the paperwork, there is nothing left to do until they graduate, and then they do exit counseling, which is all online as well. It’s a really quick, easy process that they can do at three in the morning if they want to. Once they’ve done it once, they don’t have to worry about it again for four years.

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