Financial literacy can be a dry topic, and one that’s particularly difficult to make interesting for students.
But Louise Biron, director of financial aid at State University of New York (SUNY) Cobleskill, took what she learned from putting three children through college to change the way her campus’ financial aid office reaches out to students – most recently through humorous videos that explain student aid concepts in a more accessible way.
“I thought I had a really good handle on what a parent and a student doesn’t understand,” Biron says. “I think that was just a perspective that was kind of missing.”
While Biron says the financial aid office was doing a good job of providing information to students and families, she said the information was “very traditional, technical, [and] dry.”
The financial aid office began using more humor and music to reach out to students through emails and posters on campus, and eventually began dabbling in YouTube videos this past year. Now, the office’s YouTube channel – Financial Aid Unplugged – has more than a dozen videos that explain different financial concepts, from applying for summer financial aid to a video that advocates for saving the Federal Perkins Loan Program, and another on the high cost of credit card interest.
One parody video – that’s set to the tune of Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” and has been incorporated into the school’s loan exit counseling – warns students about the consequences of defaulting on their loans. Another, set to the Brady Bunch theme song, walks students through filling out the FAFSA application and explains the different types of financial aid they can receive.
Biron says the financial aid office has used the videos – which take about three weeks to produce – for a range of purposes. Some are used in presentations to prospective students and their families. Others are sent out as an email quiz through which students who receive a perfect score are entered into a gift card raffle.
But the videos are particularly useful tools in educating students already on campus.
The SUNY Cobleskill campus, located in a small town in eastern New York, has a diverse student population, Biron says, with different needs that the financial aid office must address, such as a large number of first-generation students.
The school, much like the town it’s located in, is small, with about 2,500 students enrolled. Biron says that makes it possible for the financial aid office to more directly interact with students. Last year, for example, it was mandatory for all graduating students – roughly 400 of them – to complete a loan exit counseling session on campus that included some of the videos the financial aid office designed.
In the last few years, Biron says her office has also put a concerted effort toward loan awareness counseling, by requiring students to periodically check their existing loan balances through an internal campus website. Biron says it was “eye-opening” to speak with students and see how few of them realized how much they were borrowing – and how much it would cost to pay it back.
And the work appears to have been paying off. Over the last several years, SUNY Cobleskill has cut its student loan default rate nearly in half, from 16.9 percent in 2012-13 to 8.9 percent this past year. Fewer students are also coming in to the office seeking help because they simply don’t understand what to do, Biron says.
“We’ve really found that finding alternative ways to reach students is really critical, especially with our population,” Biron says. “Students at this age aren’t going in search of this information. So if you’re just putting it in front of them in the traditional format, they’re not reading it. You have to find ways to make it interesting for them so you can engage them.”
Is your financial aid office taking an innovative approach to student outreach? Let us know at [email protected].
Publication Date: 7/31/2015