More parents worry about paying for their kids’ college (73%) than they do about saving for their own retirement (68%). (Gallup, April 20, 2015). It is good business for you to help them by clarifying their options by offering information, tools and services to give them a chance to finance their family’s college dreams.
Here’s what you can do strategically to help them:
- Identify the sources of funds they can use to pay for college. There aren’t many so help them zero in on those that make the most sense for their situation:
- Savings – starting early is preferred but it’s never too late to start. A penny saved today could translate into fewer dollars borrowed tomorrow.
- Free Money: The federal government, states, foundations, colleges and others offer financial aid including grants and scholarships.
- Current Income: Families who have been saving for college may also continue to contribute while the student is in school to reduce amounts the student might need to borrow.
- Loans: Loans should be at the bottom of the list of financing options used to close small gaps in financing. It is critical to help customers understand if the amount borrowed will be affordable after graduation.
- Focus them on important issues: Paying for college is as much about understanding the cost of the college experience as it is about assembling a financing package. Significant issues that drive the cost of college up or down include:
- College type: 2 vs. 4 year, public vs. private, in-state or out-of-state
- Location: travel and living expenses vary widely
- Living on campus or off?
Provide Resources. Offer the information, tools and services families need to understand what it takes to fulfill their college dreams. You have a trusted advisor relationship that affords you a unique opportunity to calm their trepidation while strengthening your bond. It is a win-win for you and your customer.
Here’s what you can do to help them tactically:
- Spice up your web site. College planning calculators, content and helpful links are very attractive value-additions to your web site. Invite Education’s experience with a commercial lender in New York is instructive. The bank put a College Planning button on its web site and had more than 20,000 visitors inquire about the service. This is a bank with a commercial focus — illustrating that employees are people too. They may have originally sought information about the bank’s services for their business purpose. But when they arrived at the site, their personal curiosity prevailed and they sought guidance on an issue that affects them personally. It happens all the time.
- Sponsor college-planning seminars (live or via webinar) on topics of interest to your customers on topics such as “Savings for College” or “Selecting Affordable Colleges.” There are many local experts, including guidance counselors and others, who would be glad to be featured at your event.
- Offer a scholarship (and an internship?). It doesn’t have to be a large amount. Perhaps even offer a summer job or internship to the recipient. Students need cash for college but they also need experience for their resumes. Picture your scholarship winner working at your institution – earning money while gaining experience and serving as your ambassador. You will leverage your scholarship dollars by creating good will in the community many times over.
- Create a “Student Package.” Provide a package of products that students need (savings accounts, debit card, checking accounts – maybe even a secure credit card and/or loan product) and financial education outlining the benefits and responsibilities of the financial products you offer. These products and services to students — beginning in late high school and into college – will help you establish a customer for life.
Helping your customers and their students (your future customers) reduce their anxiety over the college process is good business. Get started today.
John Hupalo is the Founder and CEO of Invite Education, a company dedicated to providing the information, tools and services families need to effectively plan and pay for college. Learn more about John on LinkedIn and Twitter. His upcoming book Plan and Finance Your Family’s College Dreams: A Parent’s Step-by-Step Guide from Pre-K to Senior Year will be published by Peterson’s in June 2016.