YSU joins initiative to help students with unsettled debt

Youngstown State University is part of a compact of public institutions across Northeast Ohio participating in a new program to help students with unsettled debt to re-enroll and complete their degrees.

“This is yet another way that YSU is working with our partner universities and community colleges throughout the region to assist students to finish their studies,” said Jeanne Herman, YSU registrar.

The program focuses on “stranded credits,” which are academic credits that students have earned but cannot access because their former university or college is holding their transcript due to an unpaid balance.

There are an estimated 60,000 students with such credits in Northeast Ohio alone, according to Ithaka S+R, a non-profit organization focused on helping the academic community navigate economic, technological, and demographic change, 

“The potential benefits of the compact to the region’s students, institutions and economy are great,” said Martin Kurzweil, director of the Educational Transformation Program at Ithaka S+R.

The organization is working with eight public universities and community colleges in Northeast Ohio to design the pilot. If successful, it could be replicated to other institutions in Ohio and in other states. Herman and Sue Ewing, YSU bursar, are part of the pilot team leading the project.

In addition to YSU, participating schools include Cleveland State University, Cuyahoga Community College, Kent State University, Lakeland Community College, Lorain County Community College, Stark State College and the University of Akron.

The pilot hopes to be ready to begin outreach to students in Spring 2022, and students may begin to re-enroll through the compact as early as Fall 2022. 

In addition, Herman said YSU is in the process of developing its own “College Comeback” program that will specifically focus on settling debt of former YSU students who want to re-enroll at YSU.

For more information, contact Herman at jmherman@ysu.edu or 330-941-2349.

Kurzweil estimates that 6.6 million students nationwide have stranded credits and  collectively owe an estimated $15.4 billion, with average balances ranging from $631 to $4,400. 

“The accumulation of stranded credits associated with institutional debt is a lose-lose-lose proposition,” he said. “Students lose because they are unable to confirm their credentials to seek employment or transfer credits to continue their education, in addition to bearing the significant burden of debt collection. Institutions lose because they typically only recoup pennies on the dollar when balances are sent to collections and many students give up on furthering their education, reducing enrollments. And our communities lose, because these administrative impediments stifle adult education and training needed to fill in-demand jobs, which hinders economic development.”

If just 10 percent of the estimated 60,000 students in Northeast Ohio with stranded credits re-enrolls, it will mean 6,000 stopped-out adults will be back on track to earn a credential that will improve their livelihood and contribute to an educated workforce, Ithaka S+R said. Those students, who might not otherwise have enrolled, will pay about $41 million in annual tuition to the eight regional institutions.