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American Student Assistance® (ASA) has a vision for a new solution to the nation’s student debt problem. We’re starting a movement, through a game-changing educational program called “SALTSM,” to develop financial competencies in college students and alumni by using student loans and the higher education experience as a series of teachable moments. We want to revolutionize the way students finance and repay higher education, transforming them from passive financial aid recipients to instead proactive, financially savvy consumers who truly own their student loans and finances. We see a nation made stronger through education and fiscal responsibility.
See our SALT vision video.
Why is SALT needed? Because our nation’s higher education financing system has reached a tipping point. The United States promotes college to our citizenry and grants financial aid so that all academically prepared students can access a higher education, thereby increasing their earning potential and their ability to contribute to our consumer-based economy.
But ironically, the very vehicle our public policy uses to grant access to college—namely, student loans—is actually prohibiting these former students from carrying out the consumer activities that fuel our economy. Based on average income of recent college graduates, student debt eats up 20 percent of their debt-to-income ratio, the standard calculation of their ability to carry debt—severely restricting their ability to purchase a home, a car, and other products associated with starting a household.
Many students make uninformed decisions about financing college and don’t minimize borrowing when possible. After college, there are programs that can help student borrowers lower monthly payments to a more manageable percentage of income, but unfortunately they often receive no consistent, proactive communications about these payment options. As a result, more student borrowers than ever before are struggling with repayment, delaying the purchase of homes, cars, and other consumer goods and in some cases ruining their credit. News of this phenomenon has exploded in the media and seeped into the public consciousness, so much so that for the first time in recent history students and parents are asking “is college worth it”?
It is against this backdrop that ASA has launched SALT:
What Is SALT?
At its core, SALT is a movement to address the nation’s student debt problem by revolutionizing how students and alumni finance and repay their higher education, which will consequently help them make better consumer debt decisions after college and create a financially savvier next generation. SALT’s goal is to increase financial empowerment, improve student loan repayment outcomes, and reduce student loan debt through a game-changing new membership program that provides students with money skills for life.
How Does SALT Accomplish This?
Acting as a “money coach,” SALT helps students and alums feel confident and empowered about paying for college and managing any resulting student debt. We deliver decision support, engaging content, and one-on-one loan repayment guidance in a simple, useful, and motivating experience. Specific features and benefits for SALT members include:
- Proactive communication about student loan repayment options
- One-on-one repayment counseling with student loan experts
- Personalized online dashboard to track all their federal and private student loans in one place and compare payment options
- Highly interactive Web financial education curriculum and other educational content
- Multiple “self-serve” Web tools and calculators to assist with budgeting
- In-person group financial education training at their higher education institution
- Advocacy and assistance with resolving complex student loan related problems
- Meaningful benefits and incentives that lower the total cost of college attendance such as scholarship services, job/internship searches, or discounts on discretionary items.
How Is SALT Different From Other Programs in the Marketplace?
Several things make SALT stand out from the pack:
Over the years, paying for college has turned into a complicated maze of multiple financial aid programs, confusing paperwork and overwhelming information thrown at students and families. Students need an expert guide as they make decisions. In creating SALT, ASA® leveraged our 50+ years’ experience in helping students successfully finance and repay their educations. Our experience as a Federal Family Education Loan Program guarantor gives us unique insight and perspective on the challenges student loan borrowers face, and we have a seat at the table during policy and regulatory discussions that govern student lending. For the past 15 years, we’ve also been extremely effective in finding best practices for preventing student loan delinquency through proactive communication, consistently averaging over 94 percent of borrowers in our portfolio in good standing. Lastly, we’re not a lender, bank, or for-profit organization. We are an unbiased nonprofit advocate dedicated to helping students. Membership is free and affiliated with their school. We’re not trying to upsell anyone—students can trust that we’re providing neutral advice.
Game-Changing Approach to Financial Education
Let’s face it: Current financial literacy tools are boring. That’s why SALT’s vision is to use behavioral logic and game mechanics—instead of academic theory—to engage members in our lessons. We are developing the program using broader best practices in adult learning theory, game mechanics, and behavioral finance, all to promote engagement. Most importantly, we conducted countless hours of first-person research to find out what exactly students and alumni want. The end result will be a new educational model in a gamified, highly interactive environment that is founded on the principles of a “Do, Learn, Reward” approach. Students will learn through experiential situations, executing decisions, understanding the consequences of those decisions in real time, and earning tangible or intangible rewards for performing specific activities associated with learning key financial concepts or demonstrating specific competencies and proficiencies.
“Surround-Sound” Experience, Including One-on-One Counseling
Our membership experience is different—and that’s on purpose. SALT is designed from the student’s POV, with multichannel holistic interactions that meet students where they are, in the real world and online. Online, SALT delivers an action-based experience, content that’s relevant and useful to their lives, and an integrated student and alumni social community—not just reminders and alerts. Offline, SALT backs up its self-serve Web portal with live events, printed materials, and ongoing one-on-one personalized expert telephone counseling for students about loan repayment and specific debt management scenario planning.
Long Term and Proactive
SALT proactively intervenes (across multiple student touch points, including Web, print, email, text, and social media) throughout the entire higher education financing journey, from financing decisions, throughout school, and even more deeply once a borrower begins repaying loans and may require more assistance in navigating repayment options. We help students create a plan that matches the college of their dreams with the college of means, and then we help alumni make the best repayment decisions for their unique situation. We also offer our proven-to-work proactive education debt management support—emails, letters, phone—that helps them navigate or renegotiate (if they need to) their monthly payment options.
Why Did You Create SALT?
SALT is a vision for a new solution to the student debt problem that’s brewing in our nation. College students across the nation routinely say they “don’t know” how much student loan debt they’re incurring, they’re “not sure” of the difference between private and federal loans, or they “don’t understand” the financial aid process in general. Similarly, during the course of our work as a federal student loan guarantor, we hear again and again from past-due borrowers that “if only they’d known” about deferments, forbearances, income-based repayment, and the like, they could have avoided delinquency and default. ASA created SALT because “I don’t know” or “I wish I had known” are no longer acceptable responses when it comes to financing higher education—or to personal finances in general, as the recent mortgage crisis underscored. But if students have a personal responsibility to make informed decisions, then colleges, government, and others have an equal shared interest in educating and empowering students so they can make better decisions.
How Do Students Become SALT Members? Is There a Fee?
We want to put money in students’ pockets—not take it out. So we believe that SALT should be free to students. But we recognize that no single entity can bear the cost of providing effective SALT services. We have developed a model that relies on multiple parties to maintain the service free to the student. We are building a movement of like-minded organizations, from pioneering colleges and universities, to progressive government leaders, to aligned foundations and nonprofits, to socially conscious corporations, who share our goal of developing financial competencies among current and former students and share in the cost and the enablement of the SALT solution.
Why Would My Organization Choose to Sponsor the SALT Movement?
If you believe that higher education can help our nation retain its global competitiveness; if you are concerned that many students and families are making uninformed decisions about financing college; and if you worry that student debt problems could stall the U.S. economy—join us! You’ll help us create a world in which students:
- Have open and well-informed conversations with their families about college financing options.
- Can access neutral information on their financing options (tuition payment plans, scholarships, student earning opportunities, etc.).
- Create a plan that matches the college of their dreams with the college of their means.
- Leave college with a solid understanding of what they will owe and how to manage that debt.
- Can talk to an advocate—throughout college and beyond—for counsel or advice on their loans.
Contact our director of sponsorship development, David Snow, at email@example.com to learn more about sponsorship opportunities.