• Success Stories

OCAP’s Investment in Student Success: The Proof is in its Partnership with Student Connections

George Covino

The Oklahoma College Assistance Program (OCAP) is a division of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, which oversees a state system of more than two dozen colleges and universities. OCAP is charged with assisting students and families in areas that include college access, financial aid awareness and literacy, and student loan management resources.

Like most organizations dedicated to helping students realize the opportunity promised by higher education, OCAP recognizes the impact default prevention has on the mutual success of institutions and borrowers. Helping schools excel in this area is what led Mary Heid, OCAP’s executive director, to work with Student Connections. Under her leadership, OCAP forged an arrangement with Student Connections to provide default rate management support to 26 Oklahoma campuses with CDRs (cohort default rates) above 10 percent. The agreement provides the schools with the ability to offer comprehensive grace period and default prevention counseling to their borrowers.

Mary stressed that although OCAP stopped guaranteeing new loans with the end of the FFELP program, it remains very much involved with default prevention. “We were seeing cohort rates begin to rise, and we wanted to do something to help our institutions and their students and borrowers so that they could be more successful in their repayment and we could reduce the defaults,” Mary told me. With a variety of metrics available, Mary knew the ROI of the arrangement should be plainly assessable. “We could provide a service through Student Connections, and Oklahoma borrowers should be able to benefit from that.”

There is no question that they are. Since OCAP began working with Student Connections, it has seen marked improvements in beneficiary school CDRs. “Our schools all seem extremely happy with the service we’ve been able to offer them through Student Connections,” said Mary. “Our state CDR rate has been declining at a greater pace than the national rate, which makes us feel really good that our service is working.”

In fact, OCAP’s CDR reduction was 8.0 points greater than the decline at U.S. public institutions with CDRs above 10 percent and 7.2 points greater than the CDR reduction at public institutions in nearby states. In FY2016, Student Connections activities resulted in 33,700 OCAP borrower cures accounting for approximately $272.8 million federal student loan dollars (based on estimated average outstanding principal balance).

The grace counseling that Student Connections success counselors offer has emerged as a highlight of OCAP’s investment in CDR reduction. Because grace period counseling covers borrowers who have left school without graduating, it engages a segment of the student community facing one of the gravest risks of defaulting.

“We’d rather be proactive than reactive,” said Mary. “The grace period counseling gives our schools that ability. Because schools might lose touch with borrowers because they’ve left the campus and no longer have a relationship, the sooner we can reach them and assist them with a transition into repayment, the better.”

Student Connections grace counseling informs borrowers of all options, which may include a return to school. In all cases, the objective is to determine the course of action best for the borrower’s individual circumstances. Since the OCAP partnership with Student Connections began, students who underwent grace counseling were more than 40 percent less likely to enter delinquency on their student loans.

Whether it’s measured in reduced default and delinquency rates or in the hundreds of millions of cured federal loan dollars, it’s clear the OCAP-Student Connections partnership has helped preserve the value proposition of higher education in Oklahoma. As Mary says, “I think this investment in our students and institutions is rather unique, and we are very pleased that we’ve been able to do that with an industry partner that shares our vision of student success.”

You can read more details about the Student Connections-OCAP partnership in this case study.

George CovinoGeorge Covino is Student Connections’ vice president, student success