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Sac State to forgive outstanding fee debt for returning students

A new Sacramento State program that will forgive outstanding fee debt for returning students is part of a series of initiatives aimed at getting learners back into the classroom and on the path to a degree. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

The need to make good on unpaid fees – sometime in the hundreds or thousands of dollars – presents a significant barrier for many students hoping to return to college after having left before earning their degree.

A new Sacramento State program, however, will eliminate that barrier by forgiving up to $1 million of outstanding debt owed to the University by adult learners who stopped out short of graduation.

The Hornet Debt Reset program is part of HornetAttain!, a campuswide initiative managed by the College of Continuing Education (CCE), and the latest in the University’s efforts to better serve the more than 400,000 adults in the Sacramento region who have some college credits but no degree.

“As I’ve said before, Sacramento State exists to serve our community, and to serve all students, including those who started college but had to stop along the way,” University President Robert S. Nelsen said. “HornetAttain! will help us to welcome back all individuals who want to complete their degrees, while also continuing to deepen and strengthen our impact on the Sacramento region.”

Removing barriers to students’ return creates tangible benefits. For returning students, degrees can lead to higher-paying jobs with better benefits, more employment opportunities, and a greater sense of pride and self-worth. For the region, more graduates result in a larger pool of college-educated workers, a critical factor in attracting employers.

“As I’ve said before, Sacramento State exists to serve our community, and to serve all students, including those who started college but had to stop along the way. HornetAttain! will help us to welcome back all individuals who want to complete their degrees, while also continuing to deepen and strengthen our impact on the Sacramento region.” - Sacramento State President Robert S. Nelsen

Further, because stopped-out learners are disproportionately people of color, women, first-generation college students, and working parents, programs such as HornetAttain! and Hornet Debt Reset can help improve racial equity, generational achievement, civic engagement, and overall health and wellness, said Brian Bedford, CCE associate dean for Strategic Initiatives.

“The Hornet Debt Reset program is an incredible resource to serve this population, improve equity and access, and break down financial barriers for re-entry,” he said.

To qualify for the program, students must have maintained a minimum 2.0 GPA while at Sac State and have been an inactive student for the last two semesters, among other requirements. They must need additional coursework to complete their degree and cannot be enrolled at another institution.

For qualified students, Sac State will pay current, in-collections, and archived debts owed to the University until it exhausts the $1 million fund. Students must be enrolled in at least one unit and remain in good standing for two consecutive terms, or until graduation, whichever comes first. They must also meet with advisors to develop individual learning and payment plans for future educational expenses.

Past unpaid fees and tuition are eligible for forgiveness. The program does not cover fees and tuition accrued after a student returns. Though the average amount owed to the University by stopped-out students is less than $1,000, Bedford stressed the importance of the University removing barriers for returning students wherever possible.

Among other initiatives to help these students, the University, led by HornetAttain!, also has plans to set up an adult learning success center, streamline administrative paperwork, and work with the academic colleges to help with course schedules as well as identify stopped-out students. Program achievement advisors will lead University staff to meet with returning students to develop learning plans aimed at graduation, and financial plans to ensure they can pay for their education.

Bedford said the work has been a campuswide effort. He credited his colleagues with creating a culture at Sac State where faculty and staff work together to help adult learners succeed. That culture has positioned the University as a regional leader in this area, he said.

“This could not happen without the partnership and collaboration with other folks at Sac State,” he said. “That’s what makes us unique and has also catapulted us to the forefront of this work."

Money for the Hornet Debt Reset fund comes from a grant obtained through the California Lottery. More information about the program is available on the Hornet Debt Reset web page.

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About Jonathan Morales

Jonathan Morales joined the Sac State communications team in 2017 as a writer and editor. He previously worked at San Francisco State University and as a newspaper reporter and editor. He enjoys local beer, Bay Area sports teams, and spending time outdoors with his family and dog.

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