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Recapping the Angel Ed Student Debt Forum

Posted by Chad O'Connor  May 18, 2013 11:00 AM

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Student debt is a hot topic on many lips, and the center of attention at Angel Ed’s Student Debt Forum. We brought together thought leaders in innovation, academia, and youth enrichment to discuss the issues, as well as begin coming to a consensus on the action steps needed to make headway on “the elephant in the room.”

What made the night meaningful was the diversity of perspectives agreeing to collaborate in ways they had not collaborated before. Traditionally the academia, innovation, and youth enrichment sectors work independently of each other. This leads to a disjointed lack of communication and transparency - 80% of incoming college freshmen don’t know what they want, career counseling is traditionally 1:100 with no guarantee of expertise in the areas the student wishes to pursue, and there’s at least a four year lag in talent due to lack of foresight and communication between the colleges and the companies who want to hire their graduates.

The night began with context from keynote speaker Frank Britt, CEO of Penn Foster. Britt represents all three of the groups and is a champion for change in how the student debt crisis is handled. Rather than looking for blame, the data was leveraged to find and support solutions like Angel Ed - empower our children to be fiscally literate, address the business model of the loans from a federal and private perspective, and evaluate how we can plug in the companies hiring into the educational pipeline.

The event for me was empowering on many levels. If we can get people like Frank Britt, Marie Schwartz (CEO of Teen Life), Dave Owens (CEO of Tapwalk), Janice Caillette (Co-Founder of iStartup.cc), Bill Sell (Director of Event Development for the MCCA), Dave Fogel (Angel Investor and Head of Swifton CFOs), Paula Malady (Dean's Office of Simmons College), Chad O'Connor (of this blog and Northeastern University) and other thought leaders to take the time to discuss and act, we can do much more than just talk. We can enact meaningful change by harnessing the power of innovation and data.

Student debt is a problem that can be solved by addressing the transparency of the loans and educational experience, the policy that governs both, and the accountability for all parties (students, schools, banks, companies, and politics) to make informed, ethical, and strategic choices. Nearly every student will take out a loan for at least $5,500 at a rate of 6.4%, as part of their financial aid package. Yet if you don’t know what you want to do, and are not given access to the mentoring to figure out what you want and how to make it happen, you’re going to be in debt, in doubt, and doomed to an innovation-less career (if you find employment).

The thought leaders assembled at the forum represent a thesis for a better way. Engage students when they’re children, rewarding them for following through with character development, career-readiness, college-readiness, and fiscal literacy. Empower students to seek out passions so when they go to school they will be able to create resume worthy experiences and acquire “real world” skills while gaining academic theory in their desired field. Finally, encourage mentorship, internships, informational interviews, and other engagement opportunities for students to interact with their potential employers. By creating this pipeline, we will be able to increase job placement, diminish unnecessary student loans, and finally stem the tide of jobless debtors.

We asked our attendees to vote on the most crucial piece to fix first: transparency, policy, or accountability. Which do you think should be addressed first? Answer in the comments!

Navah Fuchs is the co-founder of Angel Ed. Join the conversation on Twitter @Angel_Ed_Grants.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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