Zenith Education Group to roll out new financial aid process across nonprofit Everest and WyoTech schools

Delivering on commitments to put students first, improve affordability and promote transparency, process includes interactive pre-enrollment financial literacy counseling and ‘breather period’ for prospective students

March 8, 2016 — Zenith Education Group (Zenith) announced today that its newly developed financial aid process, focused on empowering students to make fully informed choices about their futures through pre-enrollment financial literacy counseling, will be rolled out across all of its nonprofit Everest and WyoTech ground campuses this month. The process, which was successfully piloted across seven campuses last fall is one of several initiatives underway to improve affordability and create a new model for marketing and admissions that equips prospective students with personalized resources to help them make informed decisions about where to attend school.

“Our approach to financial aid is emblematic of the cultural shift Zenith has been making to prioritize student success over enrollment numbers since acquiring these campuses,” said Dave Hawn, president and CEO of ECMC Group and interim president and CEO of Zenith Education Group. “Understanding that our students succeed when we engage them as partners in their own future, we’re proud to have created a process designed with input from our students and supported by our ongoing commitment to transparency. We’ve already begun to see the benefit of our efforts to improve affordability and financial counseling support reflected in the declining debt burden of our students and are optimistic that our new financial aid process will result in further improved outcomes for our students.”

Initial data indicate that students who went through the piloted financial aid process were one-third less likely to take out their maximum available loans, as compared to students at campuses where the new process had not yet been implemented.

The process—initiated, designed and developed by the ECMC Innovation Lab, a Washington, D.C.-based incubator for new products and initiatives at ECMC Group and its subsidiaries – involves a three-step, interactive approach. After an initial one-on-one meeting with a financial aid planner, prospective students are offered a one-to-two day “breather period,” during which they are offered several follow-up assignments—including completing the FAFSA, creating a budget and researching future income expectations. By providing prospective students with time to consider the financial impact of taking out loans, this breather period enables them to determine whether the school is the right fit, right now, and encourages them to make more careful and deliberate decisions about financing their education and student loans in particular. A second student-planner meeting is held only if the prospective student decides he or she remains interested in and financially prepared to move forward.

The financial aid process is guided by a newly created “personal financial workbook,” a response to students’ expressed need for personalized information. The workbook is comprised of two sections, one pertaining to financing options and one to financial health, which correspond with the first and second student-planner meetings respectively. Workbook contents include a financial glossary, resources and FAQs, information on repayment and the consequences of default and itemized budgeting forms to be filled out by each prospective student—including a “Breaking Down the Cost of School” worksheet. Everest University Online will be piloting the new process with an electronic version of the workbook in the next two weeks.

In determining the most effective approach to the new process, ECMC Innovation Lab’s team employed a user-centered design process during which they conducted extensive research through interviews, focus groups and user testing with students and financial aid staff. Seeking innovative ideas from external as well as internal sources, the Lab also held in-depth conversations with industry experts and attended outside financial aid workshops.

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