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A New Face and a Bright Future for Award Letters

Chris Chumley knows how to bring a higher education technology product to market. And like anyone who pays attention to the news, he is all too aware of the mounting concern over the $1.2 trillion of debt our nation’s students face.

But when he took the position of Chief Operating Officer at CampusLogic, he had no way of knowing how deeply involved he’d be in building a weapon for schools and students to wield against unnecessary student debt and student financial illiteracy.

The media paints a dark picture – 1 in 10 students defaulting on federal loans, former students and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau suing Corinthian for predatory lending, and thousands of students graduating with insurmountable debt into a job market that can’t sustain them.

Chris Chumley speaks below about AwardLetter and how to empower both schools and student to battle their way out of the darkness and into the light together.

[Tweet “”Education is the movement from darkness to light.” -Allan Bloom”]

What is an award letter and who receives it?

Broadly, an award letter is a notification to the student of the financial aid package or an outline of what school is going to cost and the plan for how the student will pay for college.

What could more higher education institutions be doing to help students make educated and responsible decisions on the school loans they borrow?

I really believe that schools want to help their students make a more responsible borrowing decision. There are several challenges for schools:

First, their students are new to the process and the terminology and their parents are too.

Second, most student information systems don’t have very dynamic tools to support the decision-making process.

Third, students are consuming a lot of content on mobile devices, and schools struggle to reach them there.

What led you and the product team at CampusLogic to create AwardLetter?

The idea for AwardLetter was really the result of reading the NASFAA study on award letters and shopping sheets. NASFAA found that a high percentage of students and their parents didn’t understand the award letter. The study also suggested that layout, look and feel are important to improving understanding.

As we dug in a little deeper in our research, we found that schools have lots of content in many forms to educate students and there are lots of planning and budgeting tools but these helpful tools are not centralized. We began to see the award letter process as more than just a notification to the student of their packaging information but a channel for all of these resources at the point to the “purchasing decision.”

We then threw around the idea why is it still a “letter?” Ask a student when they last wrote or read a letter? That is not the medium students use to consume information. By making the award letter digital and dynamic it allowed us to incorporate content and tools to help students and parents make sense of their financial aid package and make better decisions.

Student loan debt in this country tops $1.2 trillion, and thousands of students have defaulted on their loans. What can college and university financial aid offices do to prevent students in repayment from falling into default?

At $1.2 trillion dollars of debt, we are facing a real national crisis that will require efforts on a lot of fronts to solve: regulatory changes, efforts to reduce cost of education, alternative repayment options. There isn’t a silver bullet. But colleges and universities can best help by doing what they are supposed to do best – educate students. AwardLetter provides a mechanism to do that.

What do you think is the greatest flaw of most award letters?

Terminology and organization that make them confusing.

I also see the award letter as a calling card for the institution. It communicates not only what the student’s financial aid package is, but the identity of the institution. What does your award letter say about your institution? Are you technology savvy? Are you student centric? How easy is it to interact with you? These are all impressions that students make from their experience with the award letter.

What’s your vision for AwardLetter in the future?

Super top secret! Just kidding.

Our vision for AwardLetter is to move beyond the award notification to an online interactive experience where students can consume personalized content, simulate a financial plan for their entire education, and identify alternative means of paying for school while reducing debt. We also see a more graphical depiction of data that help students and parents visualize their financial plan.