The Why Behind our Students’ Financial Dropouts

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Amy Glynn, Vice President of Student Financial Success at CampusLogic joined the podcast to discuss new research on the financial reasons students are actually dropping out of college, and how we can create award letters that make sure we’re communicating our financial offer as clearly as possible.

Twenty three percent of respondents reported the cost of attendance was unclear. This can be issues with understanding both what an item is that many students reported that there was confusion, actually not on what it was, but on how the amount was calculated. You're listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education, the best professional development podcast for higher education leaders looking to grow enrollment at their college or university. Whether you're looking for fresh enrollment growth techniques and strategies or tools and resources, you've come to the right place. Let's get into the show. Welcome back to enrollment growth university, a proud member of the connect ETU podcast network. I'm Eric Olsen with Helix Education and we're here today with Amy Glenn, Vice President of Student Financial Success at campus logic. Amy, welcome to the show here. Thanks for having me. Really excited to talk to you today about what the research says about the financial reason students are actually dropping out of college for. But before we dive in, can you give the listeners a little bit of background on campus logic and your role? They're sure so. Starting with me, I come from the financial layer to higher education world, so I've spent my entire career in higher education and the first half of that was as a director of financial aid at small private colleges, and all of them will really focused on rebuilding financial read to create efficiency and provide a positive student experience, where we were making financially a differentiator and a positive differentiator in the student experience. Over the past eight years they've been at campus logic, where I get to serve as an industry voice and financially experts for all of our internal teams. But the even greater part of that is I get the opportunity to talk and write about improving the college financing journey for students with an aim at improving college enrollment, student completion and eliminating what I'm calling the greatest crime and higher education, which is students who have some college, no...

...degree and are holding student deaths. A little bit about campus logic or development. We develop software as a service or staff products that help to reduce friction in the college funding journey for the students who are shopping, from the kind of shopping to when they begin to repay college say, and so we're currently working with seven hundred and fifty four colleges that represent overse six million students actively enrolled in college. A product focus on simplifying the complex funding process for students and staff will creating highly personalized interactions to help students deem access that every dollar available to pay for school. And so the product claim up includes micro scholarship platform, a financially forms in theverification solution, scholarship management, in matching, a digital communications tool and even of books advising solution and everything for offs drives back to a mission to help schools change the lives. So we feel like the buffed way to do this is by driving to solutions that will increase enrollment and retention and ultimately reduce the number of students who drop out or fail to enroll in college. Do the finances. Yeah, I mean I think your first person experience in the financial aid offices of colleges across this country can be so helpful. Your first part, you research that campus logic has recently released is going to be so helpless this conversation. Perhaps to kick us off today, there are three million students dropping out of college every year due to financial reasons. What's your thought on what's really happening here? Did something change in their financial situations cause to drop out or did we not communicate our financial situation well enough? Yes, and yes. So some students definitely have financial changes and I'll be honest, this one is top of mind for me right now, given everything that's going on in the world. The fact that, uses financial information from two years ago, we know that in the last twelve months, forty eight percent of households have reported of awesome income or unemployment. So...

...these are families that are they're facing making a decision about how to pay for college, whether there are new students are continuing, but their financial aid offer is based on old full finances lay. So so we have these students who have definitely had changes, but we've and so we have to address that right and the American rescue plan requires colleges and universities to educate students on the financially the peels process, which allows schools to take into account more weeks center more accurate financial information to adjust their federal aid awards. But we also we're just not communicating clearly either. By we had we had a problem before covid and it's just accelerating. It's accelerating that problem. And so we also, just, like I said, have a hard time communicating affordability of college. Funding process and options can be can be a little much. Well, when you when you think about it, I used to joke with students and stayers and I'm going to present all your options to you. But financially it's kind of like a buffet. You can take a little of this, you can take a little of that and take a lot of this, a lot of that. And if you've ever been to a buffet and Vegas, it's a little overwhelming. You don't even know where to start. And crab legs. Crab legs is the correct answer. Okay, that's probably a really it's just like it's grants for students, right, you always take the crab legs and you always take the grants. Always take the good stuff, lots, but because of all of the options that there are, it's just it's hard to communicate and to communicate affordability. Three out of four students who don't complete college they have segmented financially process affected their academic performance and their ability to continue. So when you think about that, the board offer, it's ground zero. Yeah, let's dig into the communication challenge specifically that we are to blame for starting...

...without a ward letter. Can you give us a summary on your recent research on award letter confusion and the methodology and instrument behind the study? Totally. So, in summer of two thousand and nineteen, we've partnered with AMI research solutions to survey a thousand students in seven hundred and fifty parents. In addition, we also surveyed and receipt responses from two hundred and thirty financial aid experts. So we asked them to pinpoint terminology and dollar amounts that they found confusing or unclear on the US Department of Educations College Financing Plan Template, and so we use that one because it was it was consistent. You know, every institution is using it if they find the principles of excellence. But the most important part is we ask them for feedback on why those items were unclear, and there's a nearly two thousand responses paying a more nuanced picture of the struggle and challenges the students and parents space understanding the information intended to help them make one of the largest playing theancial commitments of their life in figuring out how they're going to pay for their college education. Yeah, I think that one of the most interesting findings, to me at least, was that even our good news in these award letters are often getting lost. High level. You've been on the inside of this. What can we do to start making our award letters communicate better? Yeah, that is a really, really great question. When we when we look at, you know, five actionable that's the better communicate. I think the first one is we need to refocus on the purpose of the award letter. Award letters have become or offer letter to become a bit of a catchall. In the Aid Office. We know that there is a single communication, that a student is going to read it from us and it's it's very offer. So we've had a tendency maybe to include information that...

...isn't key to the purpose of communicating cost and available funding with next step, and so I think that people need to refocus. What's the purpose and they really need to go through their award letter with a fine tooth. Does this belong here? We need to standard terms and calculations that are shown to the students. There shouldn't be. There shouldn't be this broad the phrase of that cost or out of pocket cost without showing the student how we reached that calculation. So we need to demonstrate to them the math that we're doing and we need to perform that mouth for them. We contenttion, we presented in a logical format, should be at the top. All of the cost should be there, and then we should move into aid and again calculate out costs for students based on our our research. Personalized resources and next steps. Different students in different depth demographic groups get confused by different things. They're really personalizing those resources and that steps are important. And lastly, I would say let's stop the students. For puld focus groups, there was a clear disparity between what aid administrators that would be confusing and what parents and students that would be confusing. So only one percent of aid administrators that there was nothing confusing about the deaths of temples, twenty one percent of students that there was nothing confusing, and twenty eight percent of parents. And so this just it shows you that there's a disconnect. So I think we could I think we could learn some from maybe some of our marketing and our enrollment teams, using focus groups and getting feedback from students. And so those are the five actionable steps that that I see needing to that would improve the communication. Yeah, you think, and higher it, especially when we're talking about financial aid, that we'd be used to this idea of not trying to sell our internal language externally, when...

...students wanderer on campus asking what is a Bursar and where is that office? But let's let's stick into that vocabulary. Seventy percent of students claim that the language is unclear in these in these offer letters. What can we do to make sure that students and honestly, you mentioned that admins are unclear. Of course I know the difference between cost of attendance versuson that costs. I really don't know. Want you to tell me. How can we educate both both internally so that we can better communicate to our students, as well as how do we make sure that the students really understand the financial reality of these offers? Yeah, the word choice is huge and we need to start with asking does the word for its data element adds the purpose or value of the communication? So thirty percent of respondent said ESC or expected family contribution and that was unclear. This really this is really surprise anyone. It's an index, it's not a react it's not a realistic number that the family can actually contribute and we are re naming this in a couple of years. But the broader question is do we need to lift e OFC on an aid offer? This is a value that's you used to determine in federal methodology. What a the student guest does it belong on the award better. Like part of the way we reduce confusion is eliminating the noise. That unnecessary. So, you know, I think we just have it on there because of depend on there for so long and we really haven't gone back and tried to justify why it's there. Twenty three percent of respondence reported that costs of attendance was unclear. This can be can be issues with understanding both what an item is that many students reported that they look at there was confusion actually not on what it was but on how the amount was calculated. So, you know, providing me be better transparency or or resources. It'd be really great if we could just have a...

...single cost, you know, and present that and have some more transparency around costs of the towns that the reality is that the numbers kind of build on each other and so I think we can do a lot to improve comprehension by both educating on what the words mean, but also by showing students simple calculation, right again, showing them that each of each of the data elements comes together to equal the total cost of attendance. Or we're getting to next cost. They taking the cost of attendance, the grant, scholarships and gifts aid, and that's giving us them that cost and not just saying here's your net cost, but showing them actually how that calculation is occurring, because I found when working with students they were they were more overwhelmed by the idea of the process than the actual process itself when we sat down to explain to them what the next steps were. Right, and and we've kind of built it up in the media, right, like everybody should be so confused and and so and there's all these flashy had lines about how difficult to financial aid processes and how complicated. So if I keep telling you, like if I tell you you know or canute it down with amy and it is going to be the most dresful twenty minutes of your life. Might she is going to she's going to spin you in circles and you're going to hate every minute of it. You're going to come, you're going to come with this expectation and it's not going to be the most pleasant experience. And I feel like we've done that a little bit with with some of the college admissions and financing processes. And, don't get me wrong, this clue here the thing. Let's talk about the students that were losing on both sides of this issue. Do you get...

...a you a feel for the volume of students were losing up front because the offer actually looks worse than it actually is, or losing later on post enrollments because it looks better than they realize they actually can't afford it, because we can spell it out well enough for them. Yeah, so we know that thirty percent of students who do not in will to talk in college don't think they can afford it when there could really be affordable options for the student. So, I mean they think about that. Thirty percent of students who don't enroll at every single college are making that decision due to finances, and so it could be that were not communicating the financial options appropriately. It could be that we're not educating well enough through the high school experience on UN timing. You can have students who are missing out on steak grants because of delayed Fausto completion or they're leaving money on the table from an internal or an external scholarship search process just because of how complex and time centers the process could be. But even for those that make it into school, it was approximately two million students each year due to financial reasons, and this could be as small as as a five hundred dollar balance or the regency that's peaking them out of the college experience. On average students you're running out of money several times a year and face borrowing from family members or over extending themselves, and so I think there's a lot that we can fix in the retention problem if we start to address better funding and sustainable funding for students from the beginning. And it's reporting us the number one reason that students lead school is financial and it's not just it's not just paying the bill right with the impacts, the stress, the anxiety, the time the attention that students end up spending on trying to overcome...

...financial barriers when they're in school make it incredibly difficult for them to be academically successful. Amy Super, super helpful stuff can you leave us with any next steps? Advice institutions listening to this, nodding their heads, going like I know, but I don't exactly know what to do next. They want to better communicate their financial offer. Where should they start first? So the first step I would take is sitting down, having a discussion and setting some ground rules about this really being, you know, an honest, open, safe space discussion. In general, we've set up a management system for financial aid professionals. Is Pretty stunitive. Rat No one. No one really. Once in a while people come in and they're like hey, financially, if you're doing great, thanks so much, we love everything about you. There's never a headburne like that, by the way. But the reality is because of the level of complexity in the regulatory framework that's created and how schools are evaluated by the Department of Education through audits, we kind of communatives and the management system of our financially teams. So we need to level set with them that this is a safe place to have a conversation about what's broken in the way we're communicating with students with the goal of fixing it. That we got to this place. It was be intentional but we really need to look at our communication and again, after the five wives, every time you're putting a piece of information on a communication, why is it there? What's the purpose of this communication and is this content serving the purpose of the communication? They also think that our financially teams, because of the way we focus for net regulatory standpoint, sometimes those of us that are really great from a regulatory standpoint aren't necessarily the bestermost dynamic communicators, especially with the current college going generation. So leveraging communications experts that are already on the college campus, whether it's in marketing,...

...the enrollment team student life, figuring out what it is that confuses students, like getting back to that student focus group. I think that's really important to get feedback. And lastly, I'll see not getting complacent. So I didn't fully appreciate the iterative or agile process until I work at its afful development company. But knowing that, that you should pick this butter back up, pick these communications up every once in a while and you should make them better based on the feedback you're receiving. So continuing continual improvement on these communications based on feedbacks and students is really important. Amy, thanks so much for your time today. What's the best place for listeners to connect with you if they have any follow up questions? Yeah, I am available on Linkedin Unique Glenn. I am also available by email. It's in Dot Glenn at campus logiccom. The listeners can follow me on twitter if they choose UNIQUELYNN, fifty and any of those would be would be good ways to connect. She's a great follow friends. Thanks so much for joining us today. Amy. Hey, you, this is great. I appreciate your time. Attracting today's new post traditional learners means adopting new enrollment strategies. Helix educations data driven, enterprise wide approach to enrollment growth is uniquely helping colleges and universities thrive in this new education landscape, and Helix has just published the second edition of their enrollment growth playbook with fifty percent brand new content on how institutions can solve today's most pressing enrollment growth challenges, downloaded today for free at Helix Educationcom. Slash playbook. You've been listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show in Itunes or your favorite podcast player.

Thank you so much for listening until next time.

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