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Life experiences lead Keith Jepsen to 40-year career in student financial aid

Keith Jepsen

Three life experiences pointed Keith Jepsen ’67, M.S. ’68, to a 40-year distinguished career in national and international financial aid, culminating with his own company, the Global Student Loan Corporation.

Jepsen was a sophomore at Illinois State (Normal) University when his father died.  The resulting financial hardship caused Jepsen to work three jobs while attending school before he approached the Financial Aid Office for a loan to help him complete his college education. Then, as a graduate student, Jepsen did an internship in the Financial Aid Office and realized “financial aid was for me.” The third experience was moving to New York and recognizing that international students were often neglected in the area of college financial aid, which led him into international waters in the financial aid arena.

“When I took the position of director of Financial Aid at New York University, the rest of the world opened up for me,” Jepsen said.  With more than 5,000 students from other countries at the largest private not-for-profit university in the U.S. and a student body of more than 50,000 students, NYU was one of the most expensive colleges in the nation.  “I learned that while the international students said they had enough money to attend NYU, many were visiting my office to talk about the reality of their financial situations.”

Jepsen said those realities led him to talk with major money center banks to create the first international student loan program without a U.S. co-signer.  Some years later, Jepsen decided to do the same for other universities by forming the Global Student Loan Corporation, a company specializing in private student loans for distance learners and international students.

“After 9/11, it became my mission as we need international understanding more now than ever,” Jepsen said.  “Education and the exchange of international students is a better avenue to gain that understanding than any other way.”

Jepsen’s career prior to his 11 years at NYU included eight years at the Illinois State Scholarship Commission, ending as the chief operating officer, and nine years with the American College Testing (ACT) Program, Inc., ending as assistant vice president and director of operations.  At ACT, Jepsen’s area served five million students and families and 7,500 colleges and universities as well as 50 state scholarship agencies and the federal government.  At the Scholarship Commission, Jepsen administered financial aid programs totaling $650 million per year, and at NYU his area administered $400 million in university, state and federal financial aid.  Jepsen earned his doctorate at Indiana University and taught courses there as well as at Illinois State and New York University.

Jepsen also served as the national chairman of Project EASI, a collaborative effort among government, business and education leaders to reform the U.S. higher education financial aid system.  He is currently an adjunct faculty member at NYU, teaching the graduate course, “Financing Higher Education.”

While Jepsen, a Kankakee and Bourbonnais native, received a degree in business teacher education and a master’s degree in counselor education at Illinois State, he said his actual major was “out-of-class activities.”  He was treasurer of the Student Senate; Senior Man of the Year; president of Omicron Delta Kappa, the national leadership honor society for college students, faculty, staff, administrators and alumni; and president of the co-operative, El Adel.

Jepsen’s college years yielded friendships with former University presidents Robert Bone and Sam Braden along with administrators Ed Smith, Dick Hulet and Larry Matejka.  Those relationships, along with his internships and early work experiences, made Jepsen interested in pursuing a career as a university administrator.  He said his first real job was at Illinois State as an assistant director of Financial Aid, an office he described as “where the action was in those days.”  He worked for Matejka, who he described as a good boss who was supportive of “my wild ideas to automate the aid operation.”

Jepsen’s wild ideas have taken him through 40 years of the ever-changing world of financial aid.  He said his Illinois State years helped him “care about people, see what’s really important in life, learn some tricks of the trade and reinforce the work ethic needed to succeed.”  His interest in international relationships encouraged Jepsen and his wife, Kathleen Dore, to support Illinois State international studies and programs and the College of Education, where they hope to see more international placements of future teachers.  Kathleen is president of Global TV in Toronto. They have also contributed to the Institute for Leadership Development, a program emphasizing service learning, ethics, social justice and civic engagement.

Jepsen says one of his most enduring memories of Illinois State was the employment philosophy of former Dean of Students Dick Hulet.  He said Hulet hired the best people and helped them develop, including assisting them in finding a job elsewhere if that was in their best interests. Jepsen said: “Dick Hulet was a walking ‘placement center’ in higher education, and I’ve tried to thank him by doing the same.”

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