Incoming freshman at Howard University in Northwest kick off their school year with an event at Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel on Aug. 11. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)
**FILE** Incoming freshman at Howard University in Northwest kick off the fall 2019 semester with an event at Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel on Aug. 11. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)

Having a higher education is a valuable tool for getting on the pathway to the middle class — but obtaining one can be expensive. Fortunately, Mayor Muriel Bowser and the Council of the District of Columbia created a free service — the Student Loan Ombudsman — to help District residents navigate student loan financing and debt.

I am proud that this important service is one of many available through my Department — the DC Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking (DISB). At DISB, our mission is threefold: (1) creating regulations that protect consumers and attract and retain financial services firms to the District; (2) empowering and educating residents; and (3) supporting the development and expansion of business.

Part of how we empower residents is by helping the next generation of District residents identify alternative funding sources for postsecondary education to avoid unnecessary student loan debt problems. That’s where the Student Loan Ombudsman plays an important role. The Ombudsman is committed to helping District residents, including those who are economically disadvantaged, understand the real cost of education and the necessity of financial planning.

Recent U.S. Department of Education research shows that 57.7 percent of African Americans who attend college do so, in part, with the assistance of the Federal Pell Grant Program. Unfortunately, average tuition and fees at public four-year institutions have more than doubled over the past 20 years, while the maximum Pell Grant awards have only increased by 29 percent. The tuition and fee gaps are wider at private non-profit and for-profit schools.

The Student Loan Ombudsman is here to help minimize students’ debt load. The Ombudsman works with students and their families so they understand the true cost of attendance, college selection criteria, ways to save money, and how to earn college credit in high school through Advanced Placement and other programs. The Ombudsman is also responsible for licensing certain student loan servicers operating in the District.

In addition to the Student Loan Ombudsman service, DISB regularly holds free webinars to educate youth and families on the strategies necessary to pursue a college education without incurring overwhelming debt.

Would you like to learn more about the federal financial aid processes, as well as the processes for individual institutions of higher education, and how to compete for grants and scholarships? I encourage you and your family to take advantage of our services and reach out to our Ombudsman with any concerns you may have about your student loans. The Ombudsman is available by phone, email and appointment. Please contact Student Loan Ombudsman Ricardo Jefferson at 202-727-8000 or DCLoanHelp@dc.gov.

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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