On April 7, 2020, Vemo Education convened a panel of three school partners for a webinar, “Navigating a New Enrollment Landscape.” The panel included Tim Lehmann, Vice President of Student Financial Services at SNHU; Brad Reeder, Assistant Vice President for Financial Services at Berry College; and David Walker, Vice President of Finance and Treasurer at Messiah College.
In a multi-part series, Vemo will publish condensed transcripts of each speaker’s contribution to the panel discussion. In the text below, Tim Lehmann describes his take on enrollment and ISAs at SNHU. Vemo has edited his words for clarity and length.
At SNHU, we have two modalities of delivery. First, we have an on-campus traditional environment with an average student age of 18 to 22 years old. Prior to March 15, we had about 3,000 students on campus. We also have a large online program with over 130,000 students in over 200 programs.
When we first looked at ISAs, we knew there were four key features that were important to make sure our leadership understood. We believed the ISA would increase flexibility and risk sharing for students. We knew that rather than paying a fixed debt burden, students would now have payment obligations that were conditional on their income after graduation. We thought this would result in an assurance that payments will represent a sustainable portion of future income, and that it would mitigate the downside risk of debt-without-degree scenarios.
Second, we felt that ISAs offered a stronger guarantee of a return on the investment for students. A lot of students in our online programs—similar to what others probably see out there—have tried college somewhere else, have not been successful, and want to be successful. We felt that if our degree program didn’t prepare the students for gainful employment, then the ISA payment obligations would be substantially decreased or even entirely eliminated.
Third was alignment of the incentive between the school and student. Under the ISA model, we knew—and this was really important to us—a school wins when the student wins. We say our success is based on the success of our students. We felt the ISA aligned with that culture.
Fourth, and probably more importantly, the expanded access to funding through this alternative pathway was important: An ISA is forward-looking, meaning it’s contingent on future income, as opposed to backward-looking, meaning contingent on your past credit score. Students who have talent, but who lack means, would be granted an additional opportunity with the ISA—as opposed to what they would get with their traditional private loan or federal loan approach.
So, we went into this with our partners at Vemo, and we took a phased approach. For Phase One, we selected students in our Masters of Education program, and we specifically looked at a program that cultivated students’ ability to teach online.
We did that very intentionally: We wanted to see if we could implement ISAs, but we didn’t want to push too much financial risk onto the organization. We also knew we wanted to replace loans.
The average ISA amount, or need covered, was about $15,000.00. We offered ISAs first in July and sent a second round of invitations in January. Twenty-five students took us up on it. We had invited about 400 students.
With that invitation came an expectation that students would meet virtually with one of our finance counselors to make sure this approach was a good fit and determine how much. We knew all of those students wouldn’t take advantage of the ISA.
Now, we are actively moving into Phase Two—a continuation of learning about the value of ISAs. The question we’re trying to answer is, how do ISAs really help students? We want to validate the claims of ISA advocates. We want to help students with ISAs—which, we know, will help SNHU.