When I was in graduate school, I was young, married—and poor. It was a time when I relied primarily on student loans to pay for school and some of my living expenses. I remember struggling through a difficult financial aid application process and eventually receiving a notice that I was eligible for what seemed like an enormous amount of money. It was substantially more money than I really needed—and I knew it. But it was right in front of me, and like I said, I was young, married and poor. Accepting the maximum amount available would better my family’s near-term quality of life and provide stress relief that comes from solving money problems. In hindsight, I can honestly say that when I was offered the money, I wasn’t that thoughtful about what my repayment obligations would really look like.
I went into the Financial Aid Office to sign the papers to accept all of the loans available to me. Yes, all of them. In passing, I asked the Director of Financial Aid, Ann, if she thought my choice was a good one. Long story short, she didn’t. Long story long, we had a 15-minute conversation—one Ann has certainly had with thousands of students over the course of her career—where she gave me a much-needed reality check. I don’t remember everything she said, but I do remember Ann looking me right in the eye and saying, kindly but firmly, "Gregg, you should only borrow what you absolutely need because you are going to have to pay all of this back, with interest."
Ann was a student financial aid expert and I knew she had my best interests at heart—both educational and financial. Her kindness made it feel like I’d just gotten real advice from an older sister. I trusted Ann and valued her opinion. So, I asked Ann to lower my loan amounts and I ended up borrowing much less than I was initially planning to borrow. The loans I took on—which I am, to this day, thankful for—opened the door to an amazing education experience that changed my life and contributed to a fulfilling career.
I’ll never forget the time Ann took to give me very direct, honest, financial aid counseling at the exact moment I needed it. Her advice enabled me to be informed and responsible. Thank you, Ann!
Not long after graduation, I had a pivotal career experience as a young consultant working for a large, well-known professional services firm. I was assigned to a project that involved doing a detailed operational review and analysis of the largest student financial aid operation in the United States. My job was to assess the full scope of financial aid workflows, quality of the student financial aid experience, and overall efficiency of the student financial aid process.
It was the first time I ever got to peek behind the curtain of how higher education was funded. And it was eye-opening. The complexity of the financial aid process, the lack of student understanding around the lifetime implications of the critical decisions they were making around financial aid; it was a turning point for me. I believed then—and I believe now, more than ever—that purpose-built software will ultimately transform how schools and students interact around loans, grants and scholarships to drive better student financial outcomes. In short, purpose-built, student-centric software can enable student financial success.
Billions are spent on innovating academic and career resources to drive student success—but financial success has been sorely overlooked. Nearly 3 million students drop out of higher education every year for reasons related to finances. The financial aid process is hard, comprehension of the gravity of financial commitment is low, and debt without a degree is on the rise. Student financial success has been neglected—and it makes the job of amazing individuals like Ann harder and harder. If colleges and universities really care about driving overall student success, they must make a commitment to student financial success. Student financial success will only happen with intentional, sustained investment in automation, advising, and analytics. Here’s why.
Total Automation. Every student interaction around financing higher education will ultimately be mobile, simple and personalized. Students want recommendation driven self-service access to all things financial aid and schools should want this too. Accessing and administering financial aid is difficult and clunky—and it doesn’t have to be.
Deeper Advising. Financial aid professionals want to spend more time advising students and having honest, difficult conversations like Ann had with me. Think about how little I truly comprehended the implications of my decision—until someone stepped in. It changed everything. Automating 80% of routine advising situations makes more time for the 20% of situations that can’t be answered simply.
Better Analytics. Think of how much more effective Ann could have been if she had been bolstered by access to real analytics and insights about the implications of over-borrowing. Financial aid, enrollment, and retention leaders need data-driven insights into the level of student financial success being delivered at their institutions. We need to make data more pervasive across the journey.
At CampusLogic, we believe that higher education has the power to change the trajectory of individuals, families, communities and nations. Financial aid professionals work tirelessly to help students navigate financial aid—but it doesn’t have to be such an overwhelming uphill climb. We build best-in-class software products that make student financial success possible through automation, advising, and analytics. We’ll continue to invest in products that strengthen those pillars. Our investment is driven by the belief that colleges and universities will never fully achieve their access, enrollment, and retention objectives until they fully invest in the tools that enable the short and long-term financial success of their students. In other words, we will never achieve student success in this country until we prioritize student financial success.
Student financial aid success. Change one word, and we can change everything.