Speaker 1 00:00:04 You're listening to the college's worth it podcast, learn from leaders who are transforming higher education to ensure that a college degree will pay off for this generation and the next by exploring innovations in education with us in each episode. And now your host Vi Nguyen.
Speaker 2 00:00:21 Everybody. Welcome to the CIWI podcast today. We're gonna talk to Racelle Gasior and she's the vice president of client service for Ardeo Education Solutions. We talk about her journey as a student with the fear of student loan debt and how that impacted her decisions. And then her professional experience providing LRAPs to partner institutions with Ardeo Education Solutions and what LRAPs can do for not only students like herself, but also how they increase enrollment for partner institutions. So let's get to it. It's my pleasure to welcome Rachelle Gasior.
Speaker 3 00:00:56 Hi, VI, how you doing?
Speaker 2 00:00:58 Good. How are you doing?
Speaker 3 00:01:00 I'm doing well. Thanks.
Speaker 2 00:01:02 Yeah. Well, I can't wait to hear about your experience in higher education and all the trends that you've personally experienced yourself. But before that, could you just give me a little bit about your own personal background before attending college?
Speaker 3 00:01:16 Sure. So I am number three of five children, um, grew up in a small town on the border of Illinois, Wisconsin, and we were homeschooled growing up. Um, so my mom is a super mom, uh, raising five kids at the house and, uh, I was the third of five, but I'm actually the only one who have a mixture of both homeschool and public schooling. Um, I went to public school for all four years of high school. And then when my brother was getting into primary school, my mom had gotten a job and the, the younger two siblings ended up going to public school for, for all of their schooling. Um, so I have a little bit of a variety in <laugh> experiences in terms of different types of school and education, but, um, had a, had a great experience in, in the public high school system as well.
Speaker 2 00:02:17 Yeah. So growing up with this sort of unique experience, what did you have as aspirations for higher education? Or did you have any at all?
Speaker 3 00:02:27 Yeah, I, um, so we had a multitude curriculum. You could say in homeschooling, we did some co-op schooling. We did our own curriculum at home. Um, it wasn't probably until middle school, high school. I started really thinking about what the heck would I wanna do, uh, with my life. And I was really interested in the like dentistry field. Um, I was really interested in that. I was also thinking about, oh, maybe vet school, that type of care I'd be interested in. Um, and as I got to my junior senior year, it was real. Wishy-washy what my plans were. Um, I was very much in, in or on track, excuse me. I was very much on track to go down the community college route. So my two older siblings, they had gone to the community college in town for two years and had plans to transfer.
Speaker 3 00:03:23 Uh, one went to a private university, one went to a public university. So I pretty much knew that that's what I was going to be doing as well, um, for no other reason other than that's what was familiar and that's what my siblings had done. And that's kind of what was normal in our house. Um, so my senior year I went to the local community college to get that started and kind of didn't really have a clear path. Um, like many students, maybe I took a science class and was like, Nope, not doing dentistry and not doing vet school. Um, so that kind of helps solidify where I was interested in. I was interested more in the business path, more, uh, interested in education as well, kind of teetering on that. Um, and that's when I had started my real search for finishing off my degree at a private university. That was, uh, about an hour from home.
Speaker 2 00:04:19 Yeah. So tell us a little bit more about that college experience after you transferred from community college.
Speaker 3 00:04:27 Sure. Yeah. So during my two years at community, I had a lot of good experiences visiting friends at their public, their private universities kind of feeling out what other people were doing and seeing what people were enjoying or not where I might fit in. Um, and it was, Hmm. It was probably the spring before I had transferred. I had gotten pretty heavily involved in my church group, my church college group. And it was at that point, I had learned about my university cuz a lot of the students had gone there and it was about an hour from home. Um, had all really good things to say it was a really good community. It was a great campus, great location, far enough away from home where it felt like I had some independence, but also I could go home on weekends. I could easily, uh, see my family and friends.
Speaker 3 00:05:19 So it was kind of the sweet spot for everything for me. Um, obviously paying for it was a whole other debacle <laugh>, um, and challenge that I was interested in figuring out. And um, so that, that whole process led me to all right, what are my options? What do I wanna do? What does it really look like for the financial aid process? All of that. Um, I knew going into this whole thing, even as a high schooler, that this was on me to figure out in finance. So my community college, I had worked all during college and paid for my classes on my own just as my sisters had done. Um, and then going to a private university or even a public, I knew it was gonna be a need to figure out. Um, so I had gone through that process and worked with them to figure out, you know, what loans are available for me, what scholarships am I able to, uh, qualify for?
Speaker 3 00:06:15 And, um, another opportunity that really kind of helped steal the deal for me was I had a chance to play golf, um, and like many small private universities. That's something that they can offer to their students that they probably can't get at a larger university. Um, I'll be the first to tell you I'm not a D three qualified bill for, by any means. Um, thought it was really cool to be able to get a little, you know, financial assistance. Um, I loved the sport. I also loved being part of the team. So that really, really helped, um, especially the transfer process, right? Like it kind of gave me a home immediately. It gave me a quick small circle of friends. Um, so that really helped that transition as well.
Speaker 2 00:07:00 That's great. I love the way that you describe the value of college. Not only of course it does cost a lot of money, but it enhances your education in other ways, for example, your experience with golf and finding a community. And so I know you ended up using a program called LRAP. How did you first hear about this program to kind of address your student loan fears and how did this influence your life personally?
Speaker 3 00:07:24 Sure. Uh, so when I was trying to figure out all these, uh, all the details of my financial aid package, right? Um, that summer was a bit hectic. I was trying to figure out how I was gonna get on a payment plan that I could sustain while also being a full-time student while also being, um, part of a ma athletics program. So my great master plan was I will work two on campus jobs during the week and then every weekend where we don't have tournaments, I will go home and work two jobs, uh, on the weekend and then come back and do it all over again. Um, you can imagine that is not a very sustainable plan <laugh> I learned that fairly quickly. Um, I got really, really burnt out really quick. Um, I was hanging out with my friends and we'd go on tournaments and we'd be on the bus and everybody would talk about their plans for the weekend or how they were gonna pull an all nighter and hang out.
Speaker 3 00:08:27 And I'm like, there's no way I would ever do that. Um, so it, it kind of got to me towards that end of that first semester. And, um, my biggest kinda overarching fear wasn't necessarily student loans in and of themselves, but the private student loan was my big hurdle. Uh, and the main reason for that is the interest is really high and I was 19 and trying to figure out everything. And so that added private loan that didn't feel as safe or secure. It felt a little bit more intimidating, really made me uncomfortable. So that was kind of my plan to avoid a private loan. And I had joined my first semester, I was doing an education major. I had done shadowing opportunity in a classroom and I quickly realized there that was probably not the path for me either. Um, I love kids, but I could not do that full time.
Speaker 3 00:09:26 So I give kudos to every teacher in the education field. But so there was just a lot of things going on that first semester I was exhausted. Um, I was juggling a lot. I was starting to feel really burnt out and really started to question, is this the place for me? What am I doing? I'm thinking about changing the major. I feel like I can't keep this up much longer. And that was when I had gone home for Christmas break. I started chatting around with other friends and talking about their, their university experiences. A lot of them were at state schools and it, that was a very different community. Um, not just in size, but just in everything, right. It's a really different classroom experience. Um, so pros and cons for everything of that, right. It's that was not something I was interested in. Um, but I kind of felt up against the walls.
Speaker 3 00:10:19 Like, I, I don't know what else I'm gonna do, but that felt like the cheaper option. And it was at that point, I got a phone call from my financial aid counselor at my university, and she had found out that I was looking to leave and not coming back. And she really just called me to say, what's going on? Like, I wanna know what your situation is. Tell me about your story. What, what can I do to help? And, um, really opened up to her really awesome conversation. She was a wonderful person. Um, and she had said, okay, let me take this back to my team, see what we can do for you and I'll call you back. And so we had kept in touch back and forth throughout those three, four week break. And she called and said, okay, I've got something, not sure how you feel about it, but I think it could help your situation.
Speaker 3 00:11:10 She told me about this thing called LRAP and she asked, is this the thing that might make you comfortable to take on a private loan? You know, kind of recapping if I did that, that would alleviate some of the stress for the, the weekend jobs in particular, it would alleviate some of the concern of hitting this payment plan every single month that felt daunting. And, um, my reaction was very much, uh, skepticism. I was very skeptical of what she was talking about. I had never heard of something like this and it was also really timely. Cause I was really at the point where I just needed a sign that I was in the right place and this was where I was supposed to be at. And it very much provided me that, that reassurance at the time. Um, so learn learned about it a little bit more, got a lot of questions answered, and that was the thing that kind of made me figure out, all right, I can do this.
Speaker 3 00:12:05 Let's focus and let's, let's get it done. Um, but there was also other things I had to juggle, right? So I, I mentioned I was 19, just changed my major. Uh, not a lot of 19 year olds have much credit. Right. So getting approved for a private loan of my remaining amount was a challenge. So I had to get a little creative, um, kind of figured out some loose in the system. Maybe I don't even know, but <laugh>, uh, I found out I couldn't get approved for a large loan, let's say $15,000, but what I could get approved for was three, $5,000 loans. And, um, not sure if that's something a lot of students do or not, but that was something that allowed me to kind of get everything covered and um, and it worked out. Okay. So
Speaker 2 00:12:59 Yeah. Well, thank you so much for sharing that story. I think it conveys a lot about what students are feeling in this day and age. Finances can be so scary and taking out private loans can be so scary, but something like the tool that you found built a lot of trust and security for yourself. So thank you so much for sharing that. That's so wonderful. And from that experience, you now work for Ardeo who works with client institutions actually to provide LRAPs. Can you explain how you found Ardeo and possibly what you do?
Speaker 3 00:13:31 Sure. So I had, after that phone call, I mentioned of the, the gal who offered me my LRAP in the financial aid office. She had gone to work at this company, uh, fast forward a few months. She had joined then LRAP Association and her and I had kept in touch while I was still in school. Um, she actually helped me get another job on campus as well. And we kept in touch and we had connected really well just on my story and the impact of the LRAP offer. And, um, when I was graduating school was obviously in touch with the LRAP team because I was eager to get some help paying back those student loans. And, um, I was working at a sales and marketing firm for a couple years after I graduated. And every three to four months for about a year, I'd get a phone call from her and saying, Hey, I remember your story.
Speaker 3 00:14:26 We'd love to have you come join our team. We're growing. It's, it's fun. We know how much LRAP impacted you. And it took me a while to make the switch and for no other reason, other than the commute, I didn't really wanna commute at the time. Um, but I made, made the move. I came to interview with the team. I still remember that day, very vivid. Um, it was a really cool experience, a very, uh, what's the word. It was exhausting day of interview. I met a lot of people and kind of just share my story and have made the move. And I've been here ever and going on my ninth year here at Ardeo.
Speaker 2 00:15:10 That's. Great. Can you explain a little bit about what you do for our day?
Speaker 3 00:15:15 Sure. So my current role, the easiest way to describe what I do is I'm very much air traffic control for our client service and sales team. So I work outside of one of our main offices to really just be a liaison from our operations tech, um, marketing team, over to our client service and sales facing team. Um, I've had a lot of opportunity to be on campus at our, uh, partner institutions, whether it's to launch a client who wants to implement LRAP. Um, my favorite thing to do is I get to go to campuses and speak to students and families about the LRAP program. And that's always something that very much fills my bucket. Um, but I do a lot of different parts of whether it's process improvement, project management. My heart is very much in client service. So I always like to make sure that our team is doing a really good job servicing our partner institutions and whatnot.
Speaker 2 00:16:17 Yeah, thank you for explaining that. And so I love to hear that you're going on a lot of campuses talking to students and families and of course, um, college administrators as well. And so a lot of our listeners care about the value proposition of colleges. So I was wondering how do you believe LRAPs help colleges?
Speaker 3 00:16:36 Yeah, I think, um, I think LRAPs is a really unique tool for colleges to not just differentiate themselves, but for them to really say this is a challenge in higher education, student loans are scary. It's hard to, there's not a lot of families out there that have deep pockets where cash is laying around, ready for their, their kid to go to college. Um, and so this is a really good tool that helps colleges make themselves different. And also show that they're doing something about this challenge. Um, not only that, but the second piece is there's a lot of programs out there and majors and career paths that students don't go into it for the paycheck. Right? Uh, I, the first few that come to mind are like social work or ministry or education, um, perhaps even a music, uh, performance career, right? Those are paths that they are not likely to make you a millionaire. And so I think the, the LRAP program allows students and families and parents, right. To have that reassurance of this investment is a good one. And you're gonna have not just a great experience and a great education, but you're gonna be able to learn a lot. Right. It's learning outside the classroom too, that the college experience provides, I think. And so L wrap very much helps bridge that gap of students who want that and wanna pursue that, but maybe have some of that hesitation.
Speaker 2 00:18:11 Yeah. That's very interesting. I like that you, of course personally received an LRAP and you received it because you feared this cost of student loans. However, there's so many other usages of an LRAP, for example, what you mentioned, um, if you wanna pursue a certain type of profession that might not have be high paying initially. And so you've worked with so many colleges and universities, and so, um, or, sorry, you've worked with so many colleges and universities and have communicated with so many higher ed professionals. What are some practices that you see in high performing universities?
Speaker 3 00:18:47 Sure. I think, um, so schools and universities, they can use this in a multitude of ways. They can use LRAPs to really help wherever they need to meet their own goals at a really high level. The schools that use this really well, they really embrace the LRAP program as part of their own value proposition. Um, they also use it to kind of like what I said earlier. They allow it to publicly say student loans are stressful and they're doing something about it. Um, on a more practical level, our college partners that use us really well. They, they partner with us. They communicate with us regularly. They work with us to get updated data, but they also use our data to help inform them of where to spend their recruiting efforts. Um, and then the, the third area I would say is they have us come to campus. Um, one of the biggest benefits I think is we've got a really strong team of people who have done the job of an enrollment professional, whether it's at a admission counselor level or all the way up to a vice president of enrollment. And there's a lot of knowledge on our team and even going above and beyond, you know, formalizing your LRAP strategy. There's a lot of great, strong knowledge sharing that I think our college partners take advantage of in a good way.
Speaker 2 00:20:07 So I know that LRAPs are used to increase enrollment, higher ed institutions. And so are there any similarities or trends in which how, in which these institutions choose to use LRAP?
Speaker 3 00:20:20 Sure. So one of the more common strategies you see are schools who use LRAP to maybe reinterest or reengage with students that have gone silent. So I'm sure you can imagine when you're a high school senior, you are probably blasting your name out a lot, right? You wanna see what options are out there. And as the years go, as the months go on your list gets a little bit shorter. And so, uh, using the LRAP to kind of reengage those conversations that might have gone silent, or maybe have gone, they've gone quiet, and you're not quite sure why. Um, LRAP is a great opportunity to reengage and say, Hey, maybe you put us on hold because you're not quite sure, you have questions unanswered, or maybe you are concerned about what our thicker price looks like. Right. Um, there's a lot of that fear out there and just misinformation on what the college financial aid process looks like.
Speaker 3 00:21:17 So LRAP is a really good opportunity that we engage them. Um, and then similar to what I mentioned on the programs, right? A lot of our schools will really look through their programs and say, I wanna increase my yield in these three programs. We wanna grow these programs. And, um, that allows the school to be a little bit more proactive, right. And not wait until they've gone silent. So we see the majority of our schools head in that direction of proactive communication and outreach. Um, and then the third, we have colleges who say, I wanna make this our main value proposition, our key marketing message. And they blast this to everybody and they make it available to all incoming students. Um, it's a good opportunity for them to put their name out there. Right. And really show the world or making a stand and wanting to stand, not just behind their degree, but stay behind their graduates. Right.
Speaker 2 00:22:10 Yeah. Thank you so much for sharing. Well, Rachel, thank you so much for sharing your personal story, as well as your, what you've learned from your professional experiences. And of course, you're being such a wonderful guest today. That's all the questions I have for today. Um, you've brought so much wonderful information to the table. Is there anything you would like to add?
Speaker 3 00:22:31 I don't think so. This is great. I always love to share my story and I love what we do. I love being able to help students and families. And I know it's a big decision right in the family household. So it's a great opportunity for Stu students and families to feel some reassurance in the world, um, when it comes to a college decision. So if anyone does have any questions or wants to reach out, I'm happy to connect. My email is Rachelle R A C H E L L E @ardeo.org.
Speaker 2 00:23:00 Thank you so much again.
Speaker 3 00:23:03 Hi, thanks Vi
Speaker 1 00:23:05 This podcast is brought to you by Ardeo Education Solutions. Ardeo Education Solutions provides loan repayment assistance programs known as LRAPs to increase access and enrollment at higher ed institutions. Ardeo's LRAPs help graduates with modest incomes, repay their federal student parent plus and private alternative loans. The powerful promise they provide, give students the confidence they need to enroll to learn more about Ardeo, visit us on the web @ Ardeo.org.