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Higher Education Financial Wellness Summit - Passionate About Student Success

George Covino
I am literally off the plane from Minneapolis, where I had the opportunity to attend the Higher Education Financial Wellness Summit, and wanted to share some initial thoughts, even before unpacking!

For the Student Connections Team, the summit opened Sunday, when 60 attendees participated in a brainstorming session over lunch. After Product Manager Anthony Wise provided a brief demonstration of Student Connections’ Success Center, each table brainstormed a list of strategies that should be considered when implementing any student success initiative. Ideas ranged from the importance of understanding the goals for implementation to communication strategies, not only for students but also for the entire community. I’ll be sharing other information from the session in a future blog post.

Next, Sara Wilson, our financial literacy guru, conducted a preconference session on marketing your program from logo to promo. Sara and her co-presenters - Jennifer Schott, AccessLex Institute, Catharine McElwee-Roach, Indiana University, Andrea Pellegrinni, University of Illinois, and Jennifer Sheehy, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, shared low-cost strategies for marketing your program in traditional and nontraditional ways. They also shared strategies on ways to engage your students year-round. Sara promises me that she also will share additional information in a future blog post.

As the Platinum Sponsor for the Conference, the Student Connections team was kept busy by attendees interested in trying out Success Center. With the help of four demonstration phones, participants were able to experience Success Center’s Which Way app for themselves. While they were doing so, Anthony, Sara, Steve Queisser, Vice President Sales, and Nolan Mikowski, Marketing Coordinator, stood by to answer questions and arrange for demonstration sessions for colleagues back on campus.

The HEFW Summit participants are a pretty active Twitter group, so Nolan and I hosted a brief Twitter meetup during one of the breaks. It was a great opportunity to meet the people behind the handles and fun for everyone to share their thoughts on social media, financial literacy and a little bit of their personal and professional backgrounds. We thought it was very successful and will look for opportunities to do it again at other conferences. Speaking of Twitter, if you want to get a sense of the conference, check out the conference hashtag, #HEFW. So many people were sharing thoughts and takeaways from the conference sessions, as well as pictures and slides.

For me, the highlight of the Summit was the opportunity to hear Sara Goldrick-Rab speak.  Sara’s one of my Higher Ed heroes, and I was taking some good-natured teasing from friends and colleagues because I was so excited to meet her in person. Sara reminds us that our experience of college is very different from that of today’s students, especially with low-income students. She discussed the importance of meeting students’ basic needs related to food and shelter so that they are in a better position to learn. She also addressed how the current financial aid system is not set up to recognize the reality of students’ lives. She reminded participants that financial literacy is not the same as financial aid literacy and that we ought to think about that as we put our programs together. Sara was gracious enough to sign her book, Paying the Price, for me with the suggestion to “Fight On!” which I intend to do. Sara is doing important research and I encourage you to get to know her work.

I had the opportunity to conduct a session, “Current Issues in Student Retention,” on the last day of the conference for about 35 people who braved an unusually hot and humid room to share successful programs that have a positive impact on their retention and graduation rates. I was able to discuss a focus on the “murky middle”, a concept I learned about at the AASCU Academic Affairs meeting last month in Baltimore. While most schools have retention programs focused on first-year students, those in the “murky middle” can represent a sizable number of students who do not complete. My initial sense is that institutions need to review administrative policies, such as holds for parking tickets, that may prevent students from getting registered for courses they need, as well as focus on academic performance for this group. Research shows that a “C” grade is a good predictor of a future “F” grade and that an “F” grade is a good predictor of attrition. More study on the research is needed on my part!

If the purpose of a conference is to energize attendees, share best practices, come together over a common goal, then the Higher Education Financial Summit is a perfect example of a successful conference. HEFW co-founders Bryan Ashton and Phil Schuman, along with the amazing individuals who serve on the advisory board, provide an excellent opportunity for a community of passionate people to come together and learn from each other and have a little fun along the way. I highly recommend you plan on attending the summit next year in Utah!

Did you attend the summit? Feel free to share your thoughts with me via email or Twitter.

George CovinoGeorge Covino is Student Connections vice president of student success.