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Providing money savvy for college and beyond

SALT, from American Student Assistance, is an empowerment program designed to help students and alumni go from “in debt” to “on the money.” It delivers the financial savvy they need by providing real-world money skills, practical and successful financial guidelines, tools for financial success, and expert counseling. In this interview, Paul Combe, president and CEO of American Student Assistance, tells the story behind SALT.
University Business, April 2012


 What is SALTSM?

At its core, SALT is a movement to address the student debt problem our nation faces by educating and empowering students and alumni to be more financially savvy. Its goal is to help them make smarter decisions about financing higher education and paying off student loans and, consequently, make better consumer debt decisions after they leave college. The goal of SALT is to change students’ and alumni’s attitudes about money—we want to transform students from passive financial aid “recipients” to proactive, fully active consumers in control of their student loans and their finances. 

 “We want to transform students from passive financial aid ‘recipients’ to proactive, fully active consumers in control of their student loans and their finances.” 

How does SALT accomplish this?

SALT uses student loans and the higher education experience as a series of “teachable moments” to develop financial competencies that lead to long-term success and fundamentally and positively influence behavior. Specific features and benefits for SALT members include proactive communication about student loan repayment options; one-on-one repayment counseling with student loan experts; a personalized online dashboard to track all their federal and private student loans in one place and compare payment options; a highly interactive Web financial education curriculum and other educational content; multiple “self-serve” Web tools and calculators to assist with budgeting; in-person group financial education training at their higher education institution; advocacy and assistance with resolving complex student loan related problems; and meaningful benefits and incentives relevant to either the higher education experience or to the financial needs they face after completing college, such as assistance with job/internship and scholarship searches. 

Why is SALT so relevant right now for higher education institutions?

Repayment challenges are straining individual borrowers’ financial health, which in turn stresses the national economy and ultimately causes students and families to question the value of the education and giving back. As a result, higher education institutions now need to be more transparent than ever—as evidenced by President Obama’s proposed “college scorecard”—about both the levels of debt their students take on and how successful they are at paying it back. 

Contrary to popular belief, our national student loan system is not in crisis because students are borrowing more and earning less; it’s in crisis because they’re making uninformed decisions about how to borrow and repay. SALT empowers students to make better decisions, which in turn 1) positively moves the needle on the institution’s loan repayment rates; 2) creates a more financially stable alumni base for the institution; and 3) helps the institution build stronger, long-lasting alumni relationships with recent graduates so they’re more likely to give back in the future. 

How do students become SALT members? Is there a fee?

ASA believes that SALT should be free to students. We have developed a model, similar to the way access is funded, that relies on multiple parties to maintain the service free to the student. We are building a movement of like-minded organizations, from colleges and universities, to federal or state government, to foundations, nonprofits, and corporate sponsors, who share our goal of developing financial competencies among current and former students and share in the cost and the enablement of the SALT solution. 

For more information about SALT, please visit SCHOOLS.SALTMONEY.ORG. 

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