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Best Practices in Financial Aid: Jessica Abuelaileh, Default Aversion Manager for 3 Campuses in Oklahoma

May 4, 2011


Jessica Abuelaileh - Default Aversion Manager for Community Care College, Clary Sage College, Oklahoma Technical College

Jessica Abuelaileh is excited to be working with students on financial literacy and delinquency management.  Her goals are simple but pack quite a punch for students attending any one of the three campuses she serves; default prevention through financial literacy and maintaining her campuses cohorts to avoid defaults.  Jessica has taken back this program from a third party servicer and has discovered ways to increase contacts and have a more meaningful relationship with students as it relates to their financial well-being.  She is finding that students now want to understand and manage their loan debt well in advance of entering repayment.

Dana Kelly:  Jessica, tell me about how financial literacy begins on your campus?

Jessica Abuelaileh:  Conversations about financial literacy begin with perspective students.  Even before committing to attend, students are counseled on their program of study, what their expectations should be regarding employment as well as earnings and what their contribution toward that investment will be…  its essentially entrance counseling without loan specifics.  If the student chooses to attend, formal entrance counseling is held.

Dana Kelly:  Are there other aspects of your institution that distinguish your financial literacy efforts?

Jessica Abuelaileh:  Absolutely!  All of our students are required to attend a 3 week course that prepares them for not only their college experience but their life beyond college.  This is a credit-based course that devotes an entire week to financial literacy and wellness.  It’s an intense class held in daily, 5 hour blocks that covers everything from balancing a check book to repayment of their students loans.  We have very candid conversations about finances.  As we serve a non-traditional population, we cover very relevant aspects of household finances.

Dana Kelly:  That is a wonderful footing to provide your students.  I would imagine then that your office has the support of the entire campus when it comes to financial literacy?

Jessica Abuelaileh:  We employ a holistic approach to default aversion.  While the relationships are not formalized by committee, I have an open door with all of the student service areas on campus.  We strive to work together to ensure the success of our students.

 Dana Kelly:  You and I met as a result of a Wednesday Webinar on Social Media – you mentioned how you have been very successful in employing those methods with your student.  Can you tell me about how you are implementing this strategy?

Jessica Abuelaileh:  Traditionally, cold calling had been the primary way of trying to reach students.  This method works great if you can actually get the student on the phone….  Roadblocks can often prevent success with this method if information is out of date.  Additionally, I have created very colorful postcards. These are hand written and I simply ask the student to give me a call.  This method has also been successful.  But by far, the most success I have seen is through Facebook.  I use my personal page.  It has photos and is very much like what anyone using Facebook would expect to find.  I encourage students at the time they take the week long course on financial literacy to “friend” me.  So often times, I have been friends with students from the start of their college career.  In working delinquency reports, I can see if anyone on the list is a “friend.”  If so, I can send them a message and offer to help.  It’s very non-threatening and casual.  Students will respond in that environment.  I can also search on name or email for delinquent borrowers and send the same type of email.  I keep it very conversational and that builds trust with the students.  It is not uncommon for students to engage a chat about specific questions they may have.  I keep Facebook open all the time…  This permits general questions and allows the student to engage me in their world.  Facebook is an excellent mechanism for getting in touch and staying in touch with my students.

Dana Kelly:  Do you consider Facebook equally valid as a point of contact when compared to an address or phone number?

Jessica Abuelaileh:  I think it carries as much weight as an address if not more.  Addresses can change whereas Facebook is typically consistent.  I’ll share an example of how often it’s better than a physical address:  I had a student who was eight months delinquent on their loans.  Mail sent was returned as undeliverable, phone numbers I had on file did not work.  However, I found the student on Facebook and sent an email.  Turns out this student was living in their car.  Facebook was available to them through the library. Upon signing in, my email was right there.  The student contacted me.  In conjunction with the servicer, we initiated a retroactive forbearance.  Then the student was able to go under IBR and has not had an issue since. 

Dana Kelly: That makes a pretty powerful argument for social media and Facebook in particular as it relates to default prevention.  What do you say to those who are fearful of negative comments as a result of social media efforts?

Jessica Abuelaileh:  Negative comments are definitely a reality when you utilize social media.  I have encountered this on my Facebook page as well as on the blog my office supports.  Yet, the benefits far outweigh the potential for negativity.  In fact, I have found that I value negative comments as much as positive ones.  Negativity through social media is an open door.  As such, I have the opportunity to address it.  I never suppress negative comments because most of the time it’s a chance to assist someone or least have the opportunity to change that negative they are feeling into a positive!

Dana Kelly: Jessica, thank you so much for your time and insights into how financial literacy can be achieved on college campuses.  Would you be willing to speak with colleagues who may have more questions?

Jessica Abuelaileh:  I’d be happy to!  I can be reached at or facebook

Dana Kelly, Southern Regional Director (KY, NC, SC, TN, VA)

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