Jill Biden is pushing free access to community college and training programs, saying the schools will be an important part of Biden administration efforts to rebuild the economy.
A longtime community college professor and advocate, the first lady said people struggling to get by during the coronavirus-induced economic slump need access to these schools.
“We have to get this done. And we have to do it now. That’s why we’re going to make sure that everyone has access to free community college and training programs,” Jill Biden said in taped remarks broadcast Tuesday during a virtual legislative summit hosted by the Association of Community College Trustees and the American Association of Community Colleges.
Similar proposals have been put forward in the past.
In 2015, President Barack Obama and then-Vice President Joe Biden pushed a plan to provide two years of free community college, but the proposal languished in Congress.
Jill Biden indicated that the administration would revive the idea.
“We’re going to make sure students have the support they need to cross that finish line,” she said. “We’re going to invest in programs that prepare our workers for jobs of the future.”
Average annual tuition and fees at a community college cost $3,730 during the 2019-2020 academic year, compared to an average of $10,440 for in-state tuition and fees at a four-year public college, according to the American Association of Community Colleges.
Jill Biden, who continues to teach — albeit virtually — and is the first first lady with a paying job outside of the White House, said community colleges are no longer America’s “best kept secret” as she has long been fond of saying.
“They are our most powerful engine of prosperity,” she said.
The first lady teased a future White House summit on community colleges. She gave no hints on when it would be held and her office did not immediately respond to emailed requests for comment. She helped lead a White House community college summit during the Obama-Biden administration.
The halls of Congress have yet to see an openly autistic legislator, but New York Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou could change that.
Niou, who was diagnosed with autism at 22, said she was “surprised” to learn she could be the first openly autistic Congressmember but also said it showed a lack of representation of disabled communities in policy making.
“I think we hear a lot of the first and only sometimes,” Niou told Insider. “While it’s an amazing thing, I think that what’s more important is that there are people understanding that it’s also a really lonely thing. And I think that it really is important to have representation because you need that lens to talk about everything in policy.”
Niou, a progressive Democrat and Taiwanese immigrant who represents New York’s 65th district, announced her run for Congress this year in a high-profile race against Bill de Blasio and Rep. Mondaire Jones.
Niou’s diagnosis became well known after Refinery 29 published an article discussing it in 2020. After parents and kids reached out to her relating to her, she became aware of how talking openly about her autism helped to “drive away stigma.”
Among full-time politicians, disabled Americans are underrepresented. People with disabilities make up 6.3% of federal politicians, compared to 15.7% of all adults in America who are disabled, research from Rutgers shows.
“People with disabilities cannot achieve equality unless they are part of government decision-making,” said Lisa Schur in the 2019 Rutgers report.
The number of disabled Americans may have increased in the past two years. Estimates show that 1.2 million more people may have become disabled as a result of COVID-19.
Niou also said that she knows what it feels like to be shut out of the government process. In 2016, Niou became the first Asian to serve as Assemblymember in her district, a large Asian district that includes New York’s Chinatown.
Disabled people have been “invisible by exclusion from the policy-making process,” Niou said. Her disability status helps her bring perspective to a host of laws from transportation to housing, and she wants to make sure that neurodivergent people have more of a say in the legislative process.
“We’re not considering all the different diverse perspectives, especially when you’re talking about neurodivergent [issues] or when we’re talking about disability issues,” Niou said.
Disabled people are more likely to be incarcerated, are at a higher risk of homelessness, and more likely to face impoverishment.
Click here to read the full article on Business Insider.
Mayim Bialik, best known as the current host of Jeopardy! and as Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler in the smash series The Big Bang Theory, is an honest-to-goodness Renaissance woman.
She’s a neuroscientist, a mother, an animal rights activist and mental health advocate.
An author, actor, game show host and, with the release this spring of As They Made Us, a movie director.
And she’s not done yet.
The Renaissance Woman
In the tradition of Renaissance women from all eras, Bialik is ever diversifying her ambitions, her skill-set, her scope. They’re grounded in science, technology, engineering, the arts and math. Bialik said she didn’t take to science until her teens, when a tutor helped her build a model of a cell out of Styrofoam.
“I could touch that Styrofoam cell,” she told ScienceNewsforStudents. “It was just amazing. It was amazing that it thrilled me the way looking at art thrilled me.”
Nowadays, she added, “I try to put a positive face on STEM and a female face in STEM.”
Bialik, 46, who is modern Orthodox Jewish and a strong supporter of Israel, earned a bachelor of science degree in neuroscience and a doctor of philosophy degree in neuroscience from UCLA. Her dissertation was titled, “Hypothalamic regulation in relation to maladaptive, obsessive-compulsive, affiliative and satiety behaviors in Prader–Willi syndrome.” We’ll break that down later.
She started her acting career as a teen, with roles in Pumpkinhead and Beaches, as well as guest appearances on The Facts of Life, Beauty and the Beast and Webster. In 1994, she earned a major role in Woody Allen’s comedy film, Don’t Drink the Water. She also played the title character of the NBC sitcom, Blossom.
She worked steadily in Hollywood for the next decade before landing her role on The Big Bang Theory, in which she played Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler. She was nominated for Emmy awards in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 and won the Critics’ Choice Television Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series in 2015 and 2017.
In 2021, it was announced that Bialik would host the primetime version of Jeopardy! After Mike Richards stepped down from hosting the syndicated version of the show, Bialik started hosting that version, too, sharing duties with Ken Jennings. Moving forward, it’s unclear how producers will handle the hosting situation, but Bialik said it’s a joy working on the show.
“One of my biggest challenges is I’m so impressed that people know the answers that they’ve asked me to tone down how excited I am when people get them right, which I think is a great note to get,” she told DailyBeast.
Advancing STEAM Through Activism
She also hosts a podcast, Mayim Bialik’sBreakdown, that focuses on debunking the misconceptions surrounding mental health and neurodivergence with the help of friends, guest experts and media personalities.
Bialik is a vegan and a founding member of the Shamayim V’Aretz Institute, a Jewish organization that advocates for the ethical treatment of animals.
Another cause close to her heart is increasing opportunities for girls and women to pursue STEAM educations and careers.
“It’s an incredibly enlightening way to view the world once you’ve been trained in STEM,” Bialik has said. “It’s a smart career choice, and it’s a creative and exciting lifestyle to be a scientist.”
Bialik has written books — such as Girling Up: How to be Strong, Smart and Spectacular — geared toward empowering girls and women, partnered with toy companies to create STEAM-friendly toys for girls and teamed with DeVry University and the HerWorld Initiative to get high school girls excited about STEAM, among other ventures.
“I love encouraging young women to embrace the sciences,” she has said.
What’s her advice to parents and counselors?
“Educate ourselves by using the resources in libraries and online to find new ways to understand our world. Also, encouraging kids to see the hidden STEM opportunities all around them. When we cook or bake, it’s math and chemistry. When we observe weather patterns or even changes in our body, these are all wonders of the STEM awareness kids naturally have!”
Bucking the Stereotypes
Remember her dissertation? In case you scientists, or budding scientists, are wondering what “Hypothalamic regulation in relation to maladaptive, obsessive-compulsive, affiliative and satiety behaviors in Prader–Willi syndrome” means, here’s a breakdown: Abstract Prader–Willi Syndrome is a neurogenetic disorder that causes obesity. The hypothalamus regulates aspects of the nervous system. “Satiety” refers to satiated, or absence of hunger. So Bialik was intrigued by the links between the nervous system, consumption behaviors and obesity in those who deal with Prader–Willi Syndrome.
A mouthful, for sure. But interesting, yes?
Bialik, it seems, bucks easy, simplistic stereotypes, intersecting her social, emotional passions and strengths with the two roles she’s most famous for: actor and scientist.
Has the film she’s directed furthered that tendency? That’s up to viewers to decide, as is a thumbs-up-or-down.
The movie centers on a divorced mother juggling her family’s needs and her own quest for love. Dustin Hoffman, Candice Bergen and Simon Helberg star.
“It’s very vulnerable,” she told TV and radio host Ryan Seacrest. “It’s not an autobiography, but it’s totally things that are based on my life and some things did happen and other things didn’t and… here we go!”
Here’s a passage from film critic Christy Lemire’s review in RogerEbert.com: “As They Made Us is most effective in its gentle, intimate, everyday moments, and Bialik mercifully refrains from melodrama…”
Lemire continues, saying the film “is clearly a personal debut effort for Bialik, but she shows enough confidence behind the camera to make you curious about whatever other stories she has to tell.”
Which provokes, for Bialik fans, a pressing question: What’s her next chapter?
Airbnb’s billionaire cofounder and CEO Brian Chesky is making his biggest philanthropic donation so far: a $100 million pledge to former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama’s charitable foundation for an initiative that links education and travel. The funds will go toward scholarships for college students pursuing careers in public service, according to an announcement from the Obama Foundation on Monday. The program, called the Voyager Scholarship, is intended to relieve students of college debt, enable them to travel and expand their horizons—and provide them with mentors.
The two-year program will provide students with up to $25,000 in financial aid for their junior and senior years of college. Recipients will also be given $10,000 and free Airbnb housing to go on a “summer voyage” where students will design their own work-travel program to “gain exposure to new communities.”
It doesn’t end there. For a decade after graduation, students will get $2,000 per year on Airbnb to travel where they wish and “forge new connections throughout their public service careers.” The first cohort of Voyager scholars will include 100 students.
“If we want this next generation of leaders to be able to do what they need to do, they have to meet each other. They have to know each other. They have to understand each other’s communities,” the former president says in a video announcing the scholarship.
Chesky, who Forbes estimates is worth $9 billion, will donate the $100 million for the Voyager Scholarship over a period of five years to the Obama Foundation, which will be in charge of the program.
The goal of the scholarship is to open the world to young leaders who would normally be too cash-strapped to travel. “There are young people across the country who have a passion for public service, but can’t pursue it because of their student loan debt. We want to help reduce that burden,” Chesky says in the video announcement.
Yaritza Velazquez-Medina took a chance on a major career turn when she decided to drop her work as a crisis counselor in 2018 to pursue her artistic passions. She enrolled at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles to become a graphic designer — even though she racked up about $70,000 in college debt to do so.
But after she crossed the stage Sunday to receive her diploma at commencement ceremonies, she and 284 other graduates in the Class of 2022 received stunning news: Their college debt would be completely paid off through the largest donation in the school’s century-old history by Snapchat co-founder Evan Spiegel and his wife, Miranda Kerr, who is founder of the beauty company Kora.
Charles Hirschhorn, Otis president, made the announcement during the commencement ceremony at the Westin Los Angeles Airport Hotel, drawing gasps and cheers from the audience. Some graduates hugged, cried and jumped for joy.
“I’m speechless,” Velazquez-Medina said, tears streaming from her eyes.
Spiegel — whose creation of the popular instant messaging app with two former Stanford University classmates made him the world’s youngest billionaire in 2015 — took summer classes at Otis during high school.
“It changed my life and made me feel at home,” Spiegel told the graduating class. “I felt pushed and challenged to grow surrounded by super talented artists and designers, and we were all in it together.”
Spiegel and Kerr are founders of The Spiegel Family Fund. They said in a statement that the college is “an extraordinary institution that encourages young creatives to find their artistic voices and thrive in a variety of industries and careers.
“It is a privilege for our family to give back and support the Class of 2022, and we hope this gift will empower graduates to pursue their passions, contribute to the world, and inspire humanity for years to come.”
The donation comes as student loan debt has soared in the last few decades, driven by rising college costs and less public funding to cover them. More than 43 million Americans owe the federal government $1.6 trillion — an average $37,000 per person — making up the biggest share of consumer debt in the U.S. after mortgages.
In California alone, 3.8 million residents owe $141.8 billion, the largest share of any state. Those struggling most with crushing debt are disproportionately students who are low-income, underrepresented minorities and the first in their families to attend college.
The financial burden is harming mental health, delaying marriages, preventing home ownership and discouraging new businesses, researchers have found. The widespread effects are intensifying pressure on the Biden administration to craft a student debt relief plan; one proposal under consideration is federal forgiveness of at least $10,000 in debt for people making less than $125,000 a year.
The crisis has also prompted some donors to pay off student loan debt. In 2019, billionaire Robert Smith made national headlines when he announced he would cover the loan debt of the entire graduating class at Morehouse College by donating $34 million to the historically Black men’s school in Atlanta.
Hirschhorn did not disclose the size of the Spiegel family gift but said it surpassed the college’s previous largest gift of $10 million. Spiegel and Kerr offered their historic donation after Hirschhorn told them the college wanted to award the couple honorary degrees and invited them as commencement speakers this year. The couple was not available for an interview.
Click here to read the full article on Los Angeles Times.
Researchers studying recordings made by microphones on NASA’s Perseverance rover found that sound travels much slower on Mars than it does on Earth. In a study published in Nature on Friday, the team said it looked at recordings dating back to February 19, 2021, the day after the rover arrived on the planet.
Using recorded sounds generated by the rover — like shock waves from the rover’s laser that was used to cut rocks, and flight sounds from the Ingenuity helicopter — the researchers were able to compare the Martian sounds to Earth sounds. They determined that sound travels 100 meters per second slower on Mars than on Earth.
In addition, the researchers realized that there are two speeds of sound on Mars — one for high-pitched sounds and one for low-pitched sounds. This would “make it difficult for two people standing only five meters apart to have a conversation,” according to a press release on the findings.
The unique sound environment is due to the incredibly low atmospheric surface pressure. Mars’ pressure is 170 times lower than Earth’s pressure. For example, if a high-pitched sound travels 213 feet on Earth, it will travel just 26 feet on Mars.
While sounds on Mars can be heard by human ears, they are incredibly soft.
“At some point, we thought the microphone was broken, it was so quiet,” said Sylvestre Maurice, an astrophysicist at the University of Toulouse in France and lead author of the study, according to NASA. Besides the wind, “natural sound sources are rare,” the press release said.
But NASA scientists think Mars may become more noisy in the autumn months, when there is higher atmospheric pressure.
“We are entering a high-pressure season,” co-author of the study Baptiste Chide said in the press release. “Maybe the acoustic environment on Mars will be less quiet than it was when we landed.”
When the initial recordings were made last year, researchers declared it the first time sounds from a foreign planet had ever been captured.
Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said at the time the recordings are “the closest you can get to landing on Mars without putting on a pressure suit.”
Perseverance is now hunting for signs of ancient life in the Jezero Crater. In October, it found Mars experienced “significant” flash floods that carved the landscape into the rocky wasteland we see today. And a decade from now, the rover plans to be the first to send samples from the red planet back to Earth.
In a study led by Cedars-Sinai, researchers have discovered two types of brain cells that play a key role in dividing continuous human experience into distinct segments that can be recalled later. The discovery provides new promise as a path toward development of novel treatments for memory disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
The study, part of a multi-institutional BRAIN Initiative consortium funded by the National Institutes of Health and led by Cedars-Sinai, was published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Neuroscience. As part of ongoing research into how memory works, Ueli Rutishauser, PhD, professor of Neurosurgery, Neurology, and Biomedical Sciences at Cedars-Sinai, and co-investigators looked at how brain cells react as memories are formed.
“One of the reasons we can’t offer significant help for somebody who suffers from a memory disorder is that we don’t know enough about how the memory system works,” said Rutishauser, senior author of the study, adding that memory is foundational to us as human beings.
Human experience is continuous, but psychologists believe, based on observations of people’s behavior, that memories are divided by the brain into distinct events, a concept known as event segmentation. Working with 19 patients with drug-resistant epilepsy, Rutishauser and his team were able to study how neurons perform during this process.
Patients participating in the study had electrodes surgically inserted into their brains to help locate the focus of their epileptic seizures, allowing investigators to record the activity of individual neurons while the patients viewed film clips that included cognitive boundaries.
While these boundaries in daily life are nuanced, for research purposes, the investigators focused on “hard” and “soft” boundaries.
“An example of a soft boundary would be a scene with two people walking down a hallway and talking, and in the next scene, a third person joins them, but it is still part of the same overall narrative,” said Rutishauser, interim director of the Center for Neural Science and Medicine and the Board of Governors Chair in Neurosciences at Cedars-Sinai.
In the case of a hard boundary, the second scene might involve a completely different set of people riding in a car. “The difference between hard and soft boundaries is in the size of the deviation from the ongoing narrative,” Rutishauser said. “Is it a totally different story, or like a new scene from the same story?”
When study participants watched film clips, investigators noted that certain neurons in the brain, which they labeled “boundary cells,” increased their activity after both hard and soft boundaries. Another group of neurons, labeled “event cells,” increased their activity only in response to hard boundaries, but not soft boundaries.
Rutishauser and his co-investigators theorize that peaks in the activity of boundary and event cells—which are highest after hard boundaries, when both types of cells fire—send the brain into the proper state for initiating a new memory.
“A boundary response is kind of like creating a new folder on your computer,” said Rutishauser. “You can then deposit files in there. And when another boundary comes around, you close the first folder and create another one.”
To retrieve memories, the brain uses boundary peaks as what Rutishauser calls “anchors for mental time travel.”
“When you try to remember something, it causes brain cells to fire,” Rutishauser said. “The memory system then compares this pattern of activity to all the previous firing peaks that happened shortly after boundaries. If it finds one that is similar, it opens that folder. You go back for a few seconds to that point in time, and things that happened then come into focus.”
To test their theory, investigators gave study participants two memory tests.
They first showed participants a series of still images and asked them whether or not they had seen them in the film clips they had viewed. Study participants were more likely to remember images that closely followed a hard or soft boundary, when a new “memory folder” would have been created.
Investigators also showed participants pairs of images from film clips they had viewed and asked which of the images appeared first. Participants had difficulty remembering the correct order of images that appeared on opposite sides of a hard boundary, possibly because the brain had segmented those images into separate memory folders.
Click here to read the full article on Neuroscience News.
A Latina has created a platform to provide access to scholarships worth almost $38 million for Latinos and other students interested in pursuing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers.
María Trochimezuk, 47, created IOScholarships after noticing the amount of scholarship money that went unrewarded due to the lack of applicants. The free platform gives STEM students in high school and college a place to find scholarships, internships, work opportunities, financial education and resources based upon GPA, merit and financial background.
The aim, said Trochimezuk, is to help students graduate college debt-free while boosting the number of Latinos and other students of color pursuing STEM degrees and careers.
“I always had a vision that I wanted to create a platform that would be a community,” said Trochimezuk who is originally from Buenos Aires, Argentina. “It’s a first of its kind because we are focusing on underrepresented and underserved students, African American, Latinos, Asian American, Native American and also we have scholarships for DACA students.”
Trochimezuk said the platform, part of the National Scholarships Provider Association (NSPA), has helped provide access to nearly 11,000 students about a diverse range of STEM scholarships that are available from foundations and corporations.
She founded the platform last March, first investing her personal savings and then securing funding for the project through a grant provided by Google’s Ureeka PowerUp program, which supports Latino-owned businesses.
In 2000, Trochimezuk moved to the U.S. on a postgraduate scholarship in marketing and public relations at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and later was selected to be a part of Stanford’s prestigious Latino entrepreneurship initiative.
She worked on public education campaigns for Google and other financial institutions that focused on Latino community support.
Through her experiences, she witnessed how much scholarship money was undistributed because students were not applying. Yet Trochimezuk said she was able to pay off her entire education with grants and scholarships.
Over the last decade, the number of scholarships awarded to students has increased by 45 percent. Yet, the NSPA estimates $100 million in scholarships go unawarded each year due to the lack of applicants.
“We opened opportunities for students with scholarships that now are going to Stanford or MIT — these are brilliant, diverse students, they’re Latino, Black students. And it’s very important that companies pay attention to this workforce because these are the innovators of the future,” she said.
Despite making up 17 percent of the total workforce across all occupations, Latinos account for 8 percent of all STEM-related jobs.
IOScholarships is the first of its kind scholarship and financial education platform for minority and underrepresented STEM students. The technology has been designed with a streamlined user-friendly interface that offers great functionality to help high school, undergraduate and graduate students find scholarships and internship opportunities. IOScholarships proprietary matching algorithm can match students with life-changing scholarships where their diverse background is valued.
“Now is the time for students to apply for college scholarships,” said María Fernanda Trochimezuk, Founder of IOScholarships. “While there are many scholarships that have qualifications like a minimum 3.5 GPA, there are just as many that have lower GPA requirements or don’t even take GPA into consideration at all.”
GPA is an important factor for getting scholarships but is not the only thing that’s important. Schools are looking for dedicated students, who contribute to their community or are involved in STEM organizations or activities. They want to see leadership and perseverance, and while these can sort of be reflected in a GPA, they mostly shine through in extracurriculars.
The majority of the scholarships featured on IOScholarships come directly from corporations and organizations, rather than solely from competitive university pools – thereby maximizing the number of opportunities students have to earn funding for their education. There’s plenty of money that goes unused every year, students just have to search for it.
Each month IO Scholarships adds hundreds of new curated scholarships to its database and posts “The Scholarship of the Week” on its Instagram social media accounts(@IOScholarships), making it easy to find new scholarship opportunities.
In addition to providing scholarships, the IOScholarships platform features a scholarship organizer, news articles designed to provide guidance on how to apply for scholarships, and money saving tips. The platform also offers a Career Aptitude Quiz designed to help students identify the degrees and professions that best fit their skills.
Three thousand miles off the coast of New Zealand and 2,000 miles north of Antarctica, Point Nemo is so far from land that the closest humans are often the astronauts on board the International Space Station — that orbits 227 nautical miles above Earth. It’s precisely this remoteness that explains why the ISS, once it’s retired in 2030, will end its days here, plummeting to Earth to join other decommissioned space stations, satellites and space debris. This is the world’s space graveyard.
Spacefaring nations have been dumping their junk in the area around Point Nemo, named after Captain Nemo from Jules Verne’s novel “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea,” since the 1970s.
Also known as the Oceanic Pole of Inaccessibility or South Pacific Ocean Uninhabited Area, the exact coordinates of the world’s most remote spot were calculated by Canadian-Russian engineer Hrvoje Lukatela in 1992.
More than 263 pieces of space debris have been sunk in this area since 1971, including Russia’s Mir space station and NASA’s first space station Skylab, according to a 2019 study. They’re not intact monuments to the history of space travel but are likely fragmented debris scattered over a large area.
“This is the largest ocean area without any islands. It is just the safest area where the long fall-out zone of debris after a re-entry fits into,” said Holger Krag, Head of the Space Safety Programme Office at the European Space Agency.
Point Nemo is beyond any state’s jurisdiction and is devoid of any human life — although it’s not free from the traces of human impact. In addition to the space junk on the seafloor, microplastic particles were discovered in the waters when yachts in the Volvo Ocean Race passed through the region in 2018.
Space junk such as old satellites reenter the Earth’s atmosphere on a daily basis, although most of it goes unnoticed because it burns up long before it can hit the ground.
It’s only larger space debris — such as spacecraft and rocket parts — that pose a very small risk to humans and infrastructure on the ground. Space agencies and operators must plan well in advance to ensure that it falls to Earth in this far-flung bit of ocean.
In the case of the International Space Station, NASA said the ISS will begin maneuvers to prepare for deorbit as early as 2026, lowering the altitude of the space lab, with it expected to crash back to Earth in 2031. The exact timings of the maneuvers depends on the solar cycle activity and its effect on Earth’s atmosphere.
“Higher solar activity tends to expand the Earth’s atmosphere and increase resistance to the ISS’ velocity, resulting in more drag and natural altitude loss,” NASA said in a newly published document outlining plans for decommissioning the ISS.
Space agencies and commercial operators must also notify authorities in control of flights and shipping — usually in Chile, New Zealand and Tahiti — of the location, timing and dimensions of the debris fall-out zones. Around two flights per day pass through the air space, said Krag. These authorities produce standardized message sent out to air and sea traffic.
A bigger problem than the spacecraft that end up in Point Nemo, said Krag, is chunks of metal rocket stages and spacecraft making what’s known as an “uncontrolled reentry” into the Earth’s atmosphere.
In an ideal scenario, refinancing your student loans can help you secure a lower interest rate, reduce your monthly loan payments or both. However, refinancing isn’t a smart move — nor is it always possible — for every borrower. And there are several downsides to refinancing federal student loans that you should be aware of.
Still, if you refinance your student loan under the right conditions, it could save you thousands of dollars over the life of your loan.
Read on for a step-by-step guide to refinancing your student loans, FAQs and everything else you should know before refinancing.
1. Decide if refinancing is right for you
Throughout the pandemic, student loan refinancing rates have been near historic lows. As a result, refinancing has received a lot of attention. But that isn’t reason enough to do it.
Your personal situation is what matters most. Here are some general scenarios where refinancing makes sense:
Your personal finances have improved since you took out your current loan(s). If your credit score, job situation and debt-to-income ratio is much better than when you first took out the loan, it may make sense to refinance. This also applies to the financial situation of your co-signer, if you have one.
You have private student loans. Only private lenders will refinance your student loans. Unfortunately, the federal government will not. You can still refinance a federal loan, but know that it then becomes a private loan and you lose all of your federal borrower protections (more on that below). On the other hand, if your current loan is a private loan, essentially all you’re doing when you refinance is trading a private loan for a (hopefully better) private loan.
The new loan fits your needs. Ideally, your new loan will have a lower interest rate and/or monthly payment. In some cases, you might want a shorter loan length with a higher monthly payment to knock out your student debt faster. You may also be willing to lengthen the term of your loan for lower monthly payments. Whatever the case, if the new loan terms aren’t helping you, there’s no reason to refinance.
You’re OK with giving up federal borrower protections and programs. When you refinance a federal student loan, it becomes a private loan. Thus, you lose all eligibility for federal forbearance, forgiveness, income-based repayment and financial-hardship programs. Unfortunately, once you refinance your federal student loan into a private one, you can’t revert it.
Also weigh these pros and cons before refinancing your student loans.
You can take advantage of market fluctuations to lower the interest rate on your loans.
You can choose the length of your repayment term (usually between five and 20 years).
New rates or term length can lower or raise your monthly payments.
If your old loan had a co-signer, you’ll have the option to remove that person
You won’t be eligible for any repayment perks tied to federal positions, like military or volunteer service (if your previous loans were from the federal government).
You won’t be eligible for federal student loan forbearance or forgiveness plans (if your previous loans were from the federal government).
Private lenders usually don’t offer income-based repayment options.
If you switch your federal loans into private loans, that’s irreversible.
Thinking about your long-term goals with refinancing will prepare you to better evaluate different lenders’ loan repayment options. Are you trying to pay off your student loan debt as quickly as possible or reduce your monthly payments? Or is consolidation (i.e. lumping all your private and/or federal loans into one monthly payment) your primary goal?
Once you have your goal, you can think more about the terms to look for.
2. Check your credit score
Just because you’ve decided refinancing makes sense for the type of student loans you have doesn’t mean you’ll actually get the better loan terms you want. Most lenders have strict requirements for who they’ll let into their club, though it’s easier to get approved today than it was when refinancing first came on the scene.
For starters, you’ll generally need a credit score between 650 to 680 — but that’s only to meet basic eligibility requirements. To receive the best student loan refinance rates, you should have a FICO score of about 750 or above.
To make sure you’re in that ballpark, do a credit check before proceeding. And to avoid any surprises when you’re finalizing the terms of your new loan, try early on to get your FICO score, which is essentially a brand-name version of your credit score. Many lenders look at your FICO score — or they set outright FICO score requirements — when determining their loan rates.
If you get your credit score from a bank, credit-card provider or personal-finance app, double check to see if it’s your FICO score. If not, you can purchase the most accurate and up-to-date versions of your FICO score directly from FICO at myFICO.com. Alternatively, you can access a version of your FICO score for free from the credit bureau Experian.
If your score comes back lower than you anticipated, then your next step should be pulling your credit report to find out what’s affecting your score.
As a reminder, you shouldn’t pay for your credit report in almost all cases. You can access your credit reports for free through AnnualCreditReport.com. Until April 22, 2022, each of the three major credit bureaus are providing free weekly credit reports — also available on the site.