Skip to content

Paul Combe, American Student Assistance, Resources for Managing Student Loans

NOVEMBER 18, 2013

previous  view previous video in this series | view next video in this series  next

view the conference agenda and presentation slides »

   Julie Stackhouse, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis (4:20)

   Rohit Chopra, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (30:08)
   Keynote Q&A (8:06)
   Interview with Rohit Chopra (6:40)

Resources for Managing Student Loans
   Introductions (2:12)
now playing  Paul Combe, American Student Assistance (7:02)
   Interview with Paul Combe (12:58)
   Vicki Jacobson, Center for Excellence in Financial Counseling (5:46)
   Marilyn Landrum, Missouri Department of Higher Education (3:58)

Resources for Economics and Personal Finance
   Mary C. Suiter, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis (3:10)

Research Panel:
What We Know About Student Loans in the Eighth District and Nationwide
   MODERATOR: William R. Emmons, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis (4:14)
   Bryan J. Noeth, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis (13:53)
   Kelly D. Edmiston, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City (9:17)
   Caroline Ratcliffe, Urban Institute (14:22)
   Research Panel Discussion (35:46)

The Future of Student Loans and Financing Higher Education
   MODERATOR: Ray Boshara, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis (7:32)
   Sandy Baum, Urban Institute and George Washington University (11:06)
   Interview with Sandy Baum (7:23)
   William Elliott III, University of Kansas (13:12)
   Jen Mishory, Young Invincibles (8:37)
   Interview with Jen Mishory (8:01)
   Gary A. Ransdell, Western Kentucky University (11:35)
   Roundtable Discussion (40:21)


Below is a full transcript of this video presentation. It has not been edited or reviewed for accuracy or readability.

Paul Combe: Thank you. Good afternoon. It’s interesting, that last question that was asked up above, ROI. One of the things we have to keep in mind is there are two ROI’s we have to consider. There’s an ROI for the individual consumer, and what that means to them. But there’s also an ROI to the country with the investment we’re making in individuals. And some of those don’t work out. You know, we want highly educated teachers. There’s low salary, and by definition, the ROI’s going to be different there. And part of our point is as Rob said, there’s the average and so on. What ASA does is we don’t deal with the average. We try to deal with the individual.

ASA is a non-profit. We have a mission to help students succeed in repaying their student loans. And I think Rohit has done a good job of documenting the problem that many of our nation student loan borrowers are struggling. This is true, even with the federal student loans, even though congress has done a good job of supplying repayment solutions for nearly every life event, problem or mishap that a student could manage. Many borrowers simply find the system far too complicated to navigate. Paralyzed by the magnitude of this situation, some borrowers just bury their heads in the sand, and hope the loan will go away. It never goes away. We actually work with people who are retiring, and having their social security garnished. This is a life event. And they say we believe that student debt does not necessarily have to be a crippling problem for the borrowers. For over a decade, ASA has focused on trying to find the best way to help student borrowers manage the loan repayment process. We believe that by engaging the borrowers and increasing their skills, knowledge, and financial conscious early on when they are making critical financial decisions, we have a better chance to impact both their student loan repayment habits, and their overall financial success. Basically, we think the student loan can be a very strong education tool, financial literacy tool, and we need to redact it that way.

Thus, we provide a continuant of services based on the principles of borrow smart, borrow less, and repay well. Through this effort, we aim to build a relationship with students so that we can provide ongoing proactive support that can prevent problems like delinquency default long before they ever occur. We currently work with nearly 250 colleges and universities nationwide, and reach out to the in-school students, and recent alumni through our online and phone counseling program called SALT. While our website,, is free and open to the public, we work with the colleges, because they are trusted agents of the students; of the borrowers, and that enhances and improves our engaging efforts with the borrowers. SALT speaks to students in their language through peer blogs, social media, video, web communities, financial tools, and on campus events. It aims to empower students to make wise borrowing and spending choices while they’re in school and in the years after. The site provides resources based on adult learning theory, intended to satisfy all learning styles with multiple content formats, and is customized through just the borrower’s day-to-day decision-making activities. Tools include a one-stop view of all the student’s loans, calculators that put different repayment options in perspective with real life budget situations, job and scholarship searches, tips on avoiding debt, budgeting tools, and much more.

We link this online tool with an on campus curriculum called My Money 101, a traditional style financial education platform of basic financial topics. All of this is backed up by a staff of ASA counselors who are available to answer questions by phone that cannot be addressed online.

Unfortunately, the greatest financial information will never have any value unless we’re able to reach out and engage with the students early. To that end, this spring, we launched a campaign and could tap into the emotional side of student loans. We utilized the inside screen from our qualitative student research to develop a nontraditional social engagement campaign that recognized the emotional anxiety associated with student debt. We designed our Face the Red campaign, featuring a short psychological thriller to take students on a journey from fear-based paralysis to emotional catharsis. Gain from facing the red. The eight-minute movie, which played in college theaters across the country right before the premier of Iron Man III drove home the ideas that debt, or the red, will always be there. You cannot escape it, you cannot run it, you have to face it. A horror movie to increase financial empowerment may seem like an unusual choice. But if we don’t start talking to students in their language, and try to tap into their interest to engage them, we have little chance of making meaningful impacts.

Financial education tips are not something that a student loan borrower will treat to their friends. But they will treat a movie trailer. And the Face the Red movie has over 8.5 million views, and has generated nearly 17,000 Facebook likes and 7700 followers on Twitter. The movie provoked a great deal of discussion, and drove 1.5 million people to visit Face the Red site, and more than 62,000 people registered for access to

Financial education’s all about providing the right information at the right time. At any manner that is immediately actionable. Teaching students about what an interest rate is as an academic setting is important. But teaching those same skills at the exact moment when they actually are making financial decisions both big and small can have much more meaningful impact on behavior. Day-to-day actions are all potential learning risks. For example, we’ve recently launched a mobile app called Fix. This is intended to help people track their daily fixes. Their coffee fix, candy fix, et cetera. And determine not only how much they spend on those purchases, but how much they can save overtime for things like next year’s tuition. Early survey results of the app showed that 61 percent of the respondents said they decreased their small expenditures since using the app, and 59 percent increased their savings. This activity of engaging with people, and helping to make active choices about small financial matters is just one example of how the right information at the right time to move the needle towards greater financial competencies to success overall.

In summary, our long term goal with SALT is to proactively reach out to engage student borrowers. We aim to build the relationship with them when they don’t really need us, so that we can be there to help them when they do need us. To our relationship with schools, our in-school financial education, our post-college proactive counseling, and real world financial guidance, we aim to provide a continuant of services that will help build a financially competent citizenry, it will succeed financially after college including successful repayment of the loan debt. Thank you.