Battling Debt Zombies and Boosting Kids’ FinLit in Indiana

February 19, 2017 CampusLogic

In September 2016, more than 1,400 kindergarteners and first graders from the Marshall County School District took over the campus of Ancilla College for two days. On the agenda: A host of activity stations designed to help kids explore agriculture, science, and financial literacy. They took home a lot of great memories, the seeds of learning about the importance of saving, and a goodie bag filled with information on Promise Indiana and the CollegeChoice 529 Direct Savings Plan.

Financial Aid Philosophy at Ancilla

A small two-year liberal arts college in northern Indiana, Ancilla College is the least expensive private school in the state. Roughly 600 students attend annually; 66% are Pell Grant eligible and 92% receive some sort of financial aid. Its FinAid Office uses StudentFormsSM and AwardLetterSM—two components of the CampusLogic student financial aid engagement platform—to help streamline all financial aid efforts.

Making College Savings Kid-Friendly in Indiana

“Our overall goal is to get kids and parents thinking about saving for college,” explains Eric Wignall, VP of Enrollment at Ancilla. “The savings rate in our country is awful. The savings rate in Indiana is Indiana Promise Busseseven worse. We use this event to highlight how starting to save now can help these children go to college in about 12 years.”

Parents who attended the event learned kid-focused language and strategies to help them reinforce the concept of savings. One activity saw the children separate chips into different piles dedicated to different activities. “We saw overwhelmingly positive response from parents,” Wignall says. “They sent thank-you notes, stayed around to talk with our staff, and asked questions. They really got involved.”

Three-Year Funding for Kid-Focused Financial Literacy 

The effort received such positive response that it’s been funded for three years. “We had run school visits for kids for a few years, but that was a school-by-school thing,” notes Wignall. “Being able to make this a community-wide effort was thanks to funding from Promise Indiana and Marshall County Community Foundation.”

Promise Indiana

Promise Indiana LogoA not-for-profit organization, Promise Indiana promises to “ensure every child has the assets, champions, and community support to pursue their dreams.” The goals: Leverage the entire community to make it easy for families to begin saving for post-secondary education, incentivize savings behavior with community matching funds, and build college-saver identity for youth by exposing them to college and careers in the classroom and on-campus.

Promise Indiana supports the CollegeChoice 529 Direct Savings Plan, administered by the Indiana Education Savings Authority. Designed to help individuals and families save for college in a tax-advantaged way, the 529 Plan offers tax-deferred growth, generous contribution limits, attractive investment options, and professional investment management.

Marshall County Community Foundation Funding

A grant from Marshall County Community Foundation (MCCF) also supports this effort. MCCF has more than 320 funds in support of arts, culture, education, youth, and family activities. Grants are awarded to innovative and creative projects deemed to serve Marshal County and to respond to changing community needs.

Ancilla Preps for 1,400 Kids

Getting ready for 1,400 visitors took months of coordination by Ancilla staff, and a commitment from the entire college. “So many people are on deck for these events,” says Wignall. “Our enrollment staff was fantastic, our faculty led the activity stations, and board members and volunteers from the community were on-hand to help.”

Zombie Debt 

In terms of reducing student borrowing, Ancilla’s Financial Aid staff members work to ensure that students only borrow as much as they need for their education—and not a cent more. “We use the phrase ‘zombie debt’ with parents and students,” he explains.

“A comet could hit the earth and they would still have to pay back any student loans. Student debt follows you through life, like a zombie. We’re very honest about that.”

Battling debt zombies, organizing farm tours to show kids the range of careers available through higher education, and hosting 1,400 kids for a field trip: It’s all in a day’s work for Wignall and his dedicated team at Ancilla College.

The ABCs of Student Finance 

Improving Accessibility to education, reducing student Borrowing, and driving down the Cost of financial aid administration are Financial Aid issues all higher education institutions work toward. It’s what CampusLogic calls ‘the ABCs of Student Finance.’ For Wignall, reducing student borrowing and driving down costs are high on his radar.

“We are very proud of the fact that we’re the lowest-cost private college in Indiana. We have kept costs very, very low—we don’t even charge for parking on campus,” he explains. “We make every effort to not have to increase tuition, so that students can come here for less money, a lower tuition cost, with a lot of financial aid available.”

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