American Student Assistance (ASA) is a national non-profit organization whose mission is to help students know themselves, know their options, and make informed choices to achieve their education and career goals. It is headquartered in downtown Boston, Massachusetts.
American Student Assistance was founded in 1956 under the name Massachusetts Higher Education Assistance Corporation (MHEAC). The organization began when a group of people approached Massachusetts local businesses for philanthropic donations with the idea of creating a pool of money to guarantee loans for higher education. MHEAC went on to become the nation’s first student loan guarantor. Its model of a student loan program—funded by local banks and insured by a non-profit organization—was replicated across the country and by 1965, there were 14 loan guarantors in the United States.
In 1990, the United States Department of Education designated MHEAC as the guarantor for Washington, D.C. By 1992, MHEAC had begun to expand its services nationwide, so the organization adopted a trade name of American Student Assistance to reflect that its services were available to U.S. student loan borrowers everywhere.
In 2001, ASA became one of four guarantors to enter into a Voluntary Flexible Agreement (VFA) with the US federal government, changing its focus from back-end default collections to an emphasis on delinquency and default prevention. The Voluntary Flexible Agreement enabled Federal Family Education Loan Program guarantors to develop programs and techniques to help borrowers avoid student-loan default and all of its negative consequences. ASA’s Wellness program was designed to deliver debt management information to borrowers at critical points along the life of their loan in order to prevent repayment problems before they start.
Results of these Wellness activities proved that the proactive approach to giving student loan borrowers the right information at exactly the right time were effective in preventing repayment problems. According to ASA studies, graduates who received financial literacy and career information from ASA during the first two years of repayment were half as likely to default as those who did not; since 2002, ASA has beaten national Cohort Default Rates (borrowers newly entering repayment) by more than 46 percent, with 95 percent of the loans in its portfolio in good standing, on average; and ASA saved taxpayers approximately $120 million through prevented student loan defaults between fiscal years 2001 and 2008.
All student loan guarantor VFAs were canceled by the U.S. Department of Education in 2008.
In 2010, federal legislation ended privately financed, federally guaranteed education loans under the Federal Family Education Loan Program, in favor of Direct Loans originated directly by the federal government. Therefore, ASA has guaranteed no new education loans since July 1, 2010. The organization continues to fulfill its obligations as a student loan guarantor to the U.S. Department of Education for its remaining FFELP portfolio, which stands at approximately $35 billion and 1.3 million borrowers.
Additionally, in 2012 ASA launched “SALT,” a financial education membership program that teaches students how to borrow less and more wisely for higher education; how to repay student loans successfully; and how to build better overall financial skills in life. ASA’s goal with SALT is to revolutionize the way students finance and repay higher education, transforming them from passive financial aid recipients to instead proactive, financially savvy consumers who truly own their student loans and finances.
In 2018 ASA announced an expanded mission to help students earlier in their education journey – starting in middle school – so they can make informed choices about education and career plans after high school. ASA remains committed to delivering significant impact to students on a broad scale. ASA is committed to helping students explore education and career options starting in middle school, experiment through hands-on opportunities, and execute a plan to meet their goals. Some of what ASA provides includes: Digital Programming: Engaging video content designed to help 13-18-year-olds explore education and career opportunities beyond high school, Planning Services: In-person counseling services for education and career planning in local schools, libraries and community organizations, Advocacy: Championing policies that will help kids pursue education after high school and attain credentials they will need to achieve their career objectives, Partnerships: Collaborating with national and local education institutions, policymakers, nonprofits and businesses to deliver innovative programs and services, Research: Using evidence-based models to deliver impactful services and inform students, families and the field about the evolving education and career landscape
Both the Boston Globe and the Boston Business Journal have named the organization as one of the best places to work in Boston since 2008. The company currently has approximately 100 employees.
In February 2020, a $1.5 million grant from American Students Assistance was awarded to Skills for Rhode Island's Future for its PrepareRI internship program. The announcement was given by Gov. Gina Raimondo at a news conference at the Citizens Bank headquarters.