Student loan borrowers are confused and frustrated. They are juggling a host of financial obligations and navigating a complex repayment system with rapidly shifting rules.

Typically, the only places they can turn to for advice are the very companies responsible for collecting their loans.

This limitation creates an inherently challenging dynamic, particularly when borrowers are forced to rely on servicers with records of harmful mismanagement or widespread errors.

Too often, borrowers are left without the kind of support we know is essential for their success as students—a compassionate and informed advisor who can provide reliable guidance that recognizes their unique circumstances and prioritizes their best interest.

Many borrowers are left paying significantly more than they should for years longer than they should and, in the worst cases, suffering the severe consequences associated with student loan default, including wage garnishment and tax withholding.

It’s time for a change.

Shifting the status quo will be essential for creating a better-educated country and achieving Lumina Foundation’s vision for a fairer, more accessible higher education system.

We’re working with the Community Service Society of New York and the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association to do better for borrowers. Through this effort, we hope to expand state leaders’ understanding of borrowers’ challenges and identify opportunities to support those who need help.

Lumina funding will expand the Community Service Society’s capacity to spread the word about their comprehensive efforts to help New Yorkers navigate the repayment system and regain financial health.

Through the Education Debt Consumer Assistance Program, known as EDCAP, the Community Service Society provides support tailored to borrowers at every level of need. That includes informational workshops, a free helpline, case management services, dispute resolution, and legal aid.

To bolster these efforts, the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association will partner with the Community Service Society to bring together state officials interested in learning how they can provide similar support through trusted experts working in their communities.

This approach leverages the expertise of service providers who are closely engaged with borrowers, grounding the work in the lived experiences of individuals who suffer the consequences of the flawed repayment system. At the same time, we hope that working through states will provide opportunities to build scalable and sustainable support systems that borrowers can rely on.

Achieving that vision won’t be quick or easy, but we are excited to begin the process of exploring what’s possible. We are also hopeful that we will find support among partners who recognize, as we do, that this work has never been more necessary.

Tens of millions of borrowers returned to repayment last year to find a confusing, time-consuming, and labor-intensive system that makes it difficult to identify and access the tools they need to manage their debts. Borrowers have reported waiting on hold for hours, receiving incorrect bills, and seeing their debt cancellation delayed or reversed.

This work also comes at an important moment for Lumina. As we approach the end of our current strategic plan, we have been reflecting on our progress and what brought us to this work. Part of that reflection is grounded in the knowledge of Lumina’s origins.

For those who don’t know, Lumina was created in August 2000 following the sale of most operating assets of USA Group, then the nation’s largest guarantor and administrator of student loans, to Sallie Mae.

It is worth noting that Lumina has never issued loans and has no ties to the student loan industry. And while the sale of USA Group’s assets did include Sallie Mae stock, Lumina sold that stock in 2001 after charting a course as a social-change organization.

That said, Lumina would not exist if it were not for the individuals who, decades ago, sought to better their lives through higher education. Like many students today, they relied on student loans to pay for college, hoping and trusting their efforts would pay off.

But too many borrowers, both then and now, have been failed by the flawed and unjust systems they hoped would serve them.

Today, the complexities and burdens associated with student loan repayment make it harder for people who left college without a credential to return to the classroom.

For those who do complete, challenges in repayment can severely undercut the value of their degree or certificate. And for the public, a broken repayment system can erode people’s trust in postsecondary education as a reliable pathway to financial security.

We believe that we owe it to past, present, and future students to do what we can to fix those systems and repair the damage previously done. We will continue to work to make that vision a reality.

Katie Berger is Lumina’s strategy director for federal policy, and Ernest Ezeugo is Lumina’s strategy officer for federal policy.

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