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Closing the Financial Gap: Georgia State’s Innovative SunTrust Student Financial Management Center

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Kennedy Oglesby, a Georgia State University senior, who was assisted by the SunTrust Student Financial Management Center

Kennedy Oglesby, a Georgia State University senior, who was assisted by the SunTrust Student Financial Management Center

Thanks to an innovative student financial center, Georgia State is closing financial gaps that can mean the difference between graduation and dropping out of college.

By Jeremy Craig, Georgia State University

For Kennedy Oglesby, $2,300 could have stood in the way of graduating this fall.

That amount of money might seem small compared to tuition and fees for an entire year, but for students like Oglesby, a Georgia State University journalism major with a concentration in public relations, it can be a major gap.

She had exhausted the maximum amount of aid from her student loans after having transferred from a private institution with higher tuition and fees. She knew she would qualify for a Pell grant, but was not sure how much she would receive.

And Oglesby, while occupied with moving back home after an internship in Nevada, faced a tight deadline in finalizing financial aid paperwork. She wasn’t sure she could submit all of it on time.

“I was still turning in documents and it was getting to the point to where they were just going to drop me once mid-semester had come,” she said. “I was freaking out because I didn’t know what was going to happen.”

With help from a new center at Georgia State, she closed the gap.

The SunTrust Student Financial Management Center (SSFMC) is helping students navigate financial issues that put students at risk of dropping out.

A first-of-its-kind program, it is supported by the SunTrust Foundation and builds upon Georgia State’s nationally recognized efforts in providing proactive advising and academic intervention. As the center gains ground, a playbook is being created that will help other institutions replicate the program to the benefit their students.

“The whole world of college grants, loans and scholarships can be overwhelming,” said Timothy M. Renick, vice president for enrollment management and student success at Georgia State. “We’re helping students manage more wisely the precious funding they have, and we’re working with local high schools to get students and families prepared for the financial dimensions of college.”

The center provides a wide range of outreach using the university’s data-driven Financial Alert System based on the predictive analytics expertise Georgia State uses for academic intervention before trouble arises.

In its first year, the center has made a significant impact in making sure that students need not drop out because of financial issues.

During the 2016-17 academic year, the SSFMC intervened with 72,000 students, and saw more than 56,000 students visit the center on their own initiative.

The FAFSA – the Free Application for Federal Student Aid – is the key to almost all financial aid in higher education, but can be daunting, especially for freshmen.

Some students never complete the form, walling themselves off from financial aid opportunities.

Ninety-four percent of freshmen who used the SSFMC’s services completed the FAFSA during the last academic year, compared to 74 percent of freshmen who did not.

“When we partnered with Georgia State to create the SunTrust Student Financial Center, we wanted to help as many students as possible gain the financial confidence they needed to complete their degrees and reach their dreams,” said David Fuller, president of the SunTrust Foundation. “It’s encouraging to see the impact the center is making in such a short time, and we look forward to our playbook being replicated for other schools, so they too can help their students attain financial well-being.”

Through the center, Oglesby found the Panther Retention Grant, Georgia State’s nationally recognized program of small grants to students to help close financial tuition and fees gaps.

With the Panther Retention Grant and a Pell grant that did come through to help pay tuition, her account eventually reached zero.

Through innovative programs such as the Panther Retention Grant, more Georgia State students have been able to satisfy their account balances. And the SSFMC is pushing that number even higher.

In the weeks leading up to fall semester, students who received help from the SSFMC were 6 percent more likely to have completed all financial aid processes and to have paid their bills in full. Six percent may not sound like much, but at a university that enrolls 52,000 students, that translates to 3,000 more students who are ready to concentrate on their studies rather than being worried about how to pay for their education.

Oglesby is now set to achieve her degree. Thanks to a minor in hospitality and experience built with an internship with MGM Resorts International in Las Vegas, her future is bright.

“At times, I was coming to terms with maybe not graduating this semester,” she said. “I didn’t want to wait any longer, but thankfully the Panther Retention Grant and other aid really saved my life there, because I was not expecting that.”

To learn more about the university’s student success initiatives, visit http://success.gsu.edu.

This article was originally published Oct. 30, 2017 on the Georgia State University News Hub website. Visit http://news.gsu.edu for more information, including the latest university press releases, web features and Georgia State University magazine articles.

BY THE NUMBERS, 2016-17 ACADEMIC YEAR

Proactive Interventions Based on Financial Alert System:

  • 72,121

Student Visits to the SunTrust Student Financial Management Center:

  • 56,833

Outreach to Freshmen:

  • 2,567

FAFSA Completion Rate for Freshmen Affected by SSFMC:

  • 94 percent

FAFSA Completion Rate for Other Freshmen:

  • 74 percent

Increase in Students with a Zero Balance, Aug. 9 – Sept. 15, 2016:

  • With SSFMC Intervention: 22 percent
  • Without SSFMC Intervention: 16 percent
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