With Courage, We Can Change The World

With Courage, We Can Change The World

Eileen Tucker, Neumann University / Student ARC Blog / July 31, 2020

Neumann University has always been a special place. Why? Because of its diverse students, dedicated staff, and beautifully historic campus. But it’s more than that. It’s the strength and courage that drive everyone here to excel and challenge the status quo. It’s because of that courage that the financial aid team was able to recognize when it was time to re-evaluate the way we were delivering services to our students.

There was a widening gap between funding availability and the amounts our students needed to pay just to stay in school. And we were watching students who couldn’t pay their bills drop out of their higher education journeys at Neumann—an unacceptable outcome that we had to change.

With Courage, We Can Change the World

I recall sitting around a table discussing with my colleagues the financial challenges facing Neumann students. As the Financial Aid Director, this meeting is generally where I share our performance on packaging aid, as well as information about how we’re working with our enrollment team to achieve our institution’s goals. But this meeting was different. I proposed a change—something big.

I recently heard about a new solution in the higher education sector that I had to share with my team. It had the potential to close small funding gaps that, to students, often feel insurmountable. Best of all? It was safe, guided, and student led. It would require minimal guidance from staff, but it would give maximum impact to students who were in desperate need of a funding solution. This innovative solution could help students by giving them a crowdfunding opportunity that directs raised funds directly to their institution to cover outstanding balances. Talk about reducing student stress and boosting the power of social connections!

Here’s what I said to my team:

“Like every school, we have excellent and challenging academics. And we work hard in financial aid to ensure students can meet their needs throughout their studies. But recently, we have seen a gap. It’s a gap that’s widening, but at the same time, it only amounts to a few hundred dollars for most students. However, what may sound like small amounts to many can be stumbling blocks that result in students abandoning their higher education pursuits. I have struggled as a DFA with this problem. We promise gainful employment to our students, but we are falling short, and many students feel they have nowhere to turn to help them close funding gaps. I have been researching new technology that can help, and I want to discuss it. Have you ever heard of GoFundMe? I read about technology similar to that but designed exclusively for universities. It can help students fundraise and receive money for small balances. The money goes directly to paying off their balances at school. I think this is something we should consider.”

Change Comes with Questions
Like every new idea, this one was initially threaded with questions and concerns.

“Our students shouldn’t have to fundraise to pay for school!”
“Our students are low-income; how are they going to raise money for other low-income students?”

I didn’t have all the answers, but I knew where I could get them. I reached out to Mark McGinnis, Senior Solutions Architect at CampusLogic. With his extensive experience in the innovative space of higher education, I knew he could help me explain the benefits and nuances of the new technology I was proposing. After all, he was the one who originally shared this unique crowdfunding idea with me.

Concerns, Questions, and Answers
The first concern had to do with perception. Although I agree that students shouldn’t have to fundraise to pay for school, they do. I know this because I watch students walk out of my office without funding—and because of this, they end up leaving our school. If we continue to watch this happen without taking action, we are knowingly watching students drop out without offering viable solutions.

The second concern was more functional. Mark shared that students can raise money from their family and friends in $25 increments. People from all walks of life have raised upwards of $5 billion on GoFundMe with micro-donations. But the solution we were looking at was unique. Students could fundraise in small increments, and the school could assist by sending individual student campaigns to alumni who have larger financial capacity. The reach of the school married with compelling personal student stories can yield incredible results.

The Case for SponsoredScholar
With the clarity I needed, I took the leap. I went back to the leadership team and made my case.

After that first product introduction, people started to say things like, “Oh! This is like Kickstarter. My neighbor's kid ran a Kickstarter campaign.” And people really paid attention to the process, commenting, “The students create a page, text to their dentist, family friends, and anyone else who could help. Then the money goes to our school’s bank account/SIS to pay off their bill. Seems simple enough.”

With positive feedback piling up, and after reviewing many options, my colleagues and I decided to give this new technology a try. At the end of 2019, we implemented SponsoredScholar, a product on the CampusLogic platform. We decided to run a pilot to test the technology, with the plan to move forward and grow it, if successful.

“We are here to support you. If you are struggling financially, we have options that may help you close funding gaps.” 

Student Support from Day One

The pilot is now complete. And the results are exciting.

Our team is now using SponsoredScholar to help freshmen who are struggling due to the pandemic to pay their entrance fees. It’s a nice first touch point for me. I’m able to immediately share an important message with students. “We are here to support you. If you are struggling financially, we have options that may help you close funding gaps.” Although not my field, I think this can help us build a culture of philanthropy at our school. From day one, students are getting help, which sets an important precedent that their financial aid office is there to support them throughout their higher education journey. And who couldn’t use a little help, especially now?

This can be a success story for any school that wants to leverage the power of technology to help students close small funding gaps and complete their higher education goals

It’s More Than Math
The math on our pilot is simple. With SponsoredScholar, we were able to save 10% of our at-risk student population from dropping out, and that makes a difference.

For me, as the DFA, it’s about more than math. It’s all about the students and this waterfall of emotion they share about running a campaign. “Ms. Eileen! I just raised $700! I can register for classes. I’m going to become a nurse!” Students tell their stories with tears running down their faces. “Ms. Eileen, this means the world to me and my family. I want to thank you for helping me—throughout my time here and in this moment. I’m going to make you proud.”

I’m the DFA of Neumann. It’s my job to ensure every student has the financial resources they need to graduate. Plain and simple, SponsoredScholar is now an essential tool in my financial success toolkit. I know new ideas are scary professionally, but our students need us. They need our courage. I highly recommend using crowdfunding to help empower students to pay small balances so they can stay in school and build their futures.

Neumann has already seen great success with SponsoredScholar, but this isn’t just a Neumann story. This can be a success story for any school that wants to leverage the power of technology to help students close small funding gaps and complete their higher education goals—and I’m here to support any school that wants to try this.

Eileen Tucker serves as the Director of Financial Assistance at Neumann University.