Have you ever witnessed an incredible student—engaged, high academic marks, caring—leave school because they couldn’t pay their end-of-semester bill? You know they’ve maxed out their financial aid, a slight discount won’t help, and even a payment plan is just kicking the can down the road. Looking at this aspiring student, you’ve had to utter the words, “I’m sorry. There’s nothing we can do.”
I hate that we live in a world where this is the case.
So does Eileen Tucker, Director of Financial Assistance at Neumann University—and she’s doing something about it. I sat down with her recently to talk about how with SponsoredScholar she made it possible for students to crowdfund financial gaps. Every student her innovative efforts have saved is a huge retention win.
Eileen, thanks for joining me. Let’s start by discussing the student retention problem at Neumann University.
Ross, it is a really simple problem. We have a total of 2,400 students at Neumann. Every year, 100 students drop out for myriad reasons—half of those who drop out do so because of financial distress. That’s 50 students per year lost because they are having financial trouble.
Every student that drops out is such a huge loss—especially if they take debt but no degree with them. That must be tough on you and your colleagues. How does this impact the school?
Seeing students drop out is devastating, we want to graduate every student who enrolls. And yes, at the institutional level, each student who walks away hurts our bottom line. Let’s just think of one year at Neumann, where tuition costs $15,000. Doing the math, 50 students at $15,000 is $750,000 a year that we are losing.
When you look at it like that, that’s $3 million over four years—not a small amount of money.
It’s not a small amount at all—and in today’s environment, every student counts. Higher education enrollments are down nationally for the eighth year in a row—it’s more important than ever to focus on student retention. Behind every dollar is a student. They come in, they try, and we have to push them away. But the financial aspect is also daunting. We are always looking at ways to improve financially, as well as retain more students.
Let’s talk about how you’re working to solve this problem. You’re using SponsoredScholar, crowdfunding, storytelling, and tying it all together through Neumann’s systems. That’s exciting.
Yes, this year, we launched SponsoredScholar, part of the student financial success platform from CampusLogic. It’s a really innovative approach to solving the student retention problem. Here’s how it works: students come into my office, they share that they are having trouble paying a bill, and we say we have a new solution that can help them.
We let students know they will need to tell their story, identify their community, and send a round of messages explaining their need. Once the student agrees, we have them create an account on SponsoredScholar. That’s where they start writing their story. If students need help, my financial advisors can assist—but many students are able to share their story on their own. SponsoredScholar then guides them to identify their community—think of people like your dentist, parents’ insurance agent, aunts and uncles, etc, people who know the student and would consider supporting them with a few dollars. Once they have identified their community, the student uploads their email addresses. Then they can send templated emails in the system. Students will send 3-5 emails to their community asking for their financial support.
For example, if you have 50 students and you get them all to upload 20 contacts, that’s 1,000 people who can help pay off outstanding balances at your school—not to mention potential added support from the social following of those students.
It’s a powerful way to look at solving a big retention problem. If you can save a student, you also get the tuition revenue.
Yes! I have to say, my CFO loves me. For every student I’m saving, I’m adding $15,000 of tuition revenue back to the school. It’s very powerful.
Talk to me about the funds going into the student account. How does that happen?
Every week, we transfer the money from the student campaigns over to our general bank account. We then use data from SponsoredScholar to update Colleague, our Ellucian® Student Information System (SIS). Once the SIS is updated, we have systems in place to transfer the money to specific student accounts.
Can you tell me more about the results of implementing SponsoredScholar at Neumann? What has been the biggest ROI for you—and the most unexpected?
I’ve been quite astonished! We launched three months ago, and we have already saved six students from dropping out. I can say that confidently—students have told me personally that they would have dropped out without the help of SponsoredScholar. Keeping them in school means $90,000 in new tuition dollars. The most unexpected benefit would be how SponsoredScholar is helping us be truly innovative in solving students’ problems—it’s something that sets us apart, and opens up endless funding avenues for each and every student.
It’s nice to have such tangible ROI to report to leadership. Everyone is really happy with the program and its results.
Close to $100,000 in three months is impressive. What are your goals as you move forward with SponsoredScholar?
We want to keep growing the number of students we can help. We’re very excited to assist in helping students find new avenues for funding. People want to help students, and this gives them a highly personalized way to accomplish that goal.
SponsoredScholar Drives Retention at Neumann University
SponsoredScholar is helping Neumann University students activate their personal networks to close funding gaps. In just three months, Neumann has seen improved student retention and satisfaction.
Students are struggling to bridge small financial gaps that feel like insurmountable voids. When traditional financial aid methods are exhausted, SponsoredScholar can help. SponsoredScholar is a crowdfunding platform that empowers students to pay their bills and stay in school. Institutions have a simple implementation, and then it’s in students’ hands to fundraise. Students write their stories about why they need financial help and share with their networks through email and social media, with their school’s branding on their side. Funds raised flow directly to their institution’s designated bank account to go toward their outstanding balances, keeping students on their path to student financial success.
Read more about Neumann University’s success with SponsoredScholar here.