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The RMU College Affordability Academy

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Pittsburgh, May 8, 2015 – Robert Morris University has launched the College Affordability Academy, a training initiative for admissions counselors, financial aid officers, faculty mentors, and student support staff to make the college financing system as transparent as possible for prospective students.

The objective of the College Affordability Academy is for anyone involved in the recruitment and enrollment process to be able to provide prospective students and their families with unbiased information about all sorts of money questions, including:

  • Student debt and college financing options
  • Students' expected earnings upon graduation
  • How to find third-party ratings and evaluations of RMU 
  • How campus employment, study abroad, and internships contribute to lifetime employability

Fifty RMU faculty and staff completed the eight-week program, and they worked in teams to develop capstone projects that would help translate what participants learned in the academy to prospective students and their families; this video, “A Tale of Two Students,” is one example. Another team developed the “Now What Calculator,” which RMU admissions counselor Katie Cirell recently used to show the mother of a prospective student how much his monthly loan repayment would be upon graduation. 

“I think being able to clearly calculate what amount the student would pay per month truly helped the family put the seemingly large number into perspective,” said Cirell.

Wendy Beckemeyer, vice president for enrollment management at RMU, developed the College Affordability Academy as part of the university’s most recent five-year strategic plan. That plan places an increased emphasis on measuring the professional and personal success of RMU graduates, and one tool it employs is the RMU Gallup Survey, which demonstrates a high return on investment for a Robert Morris degree.

“The enrollment team tells and retells prospective families about the journey of how RMU students achieve such terrific outcomes,” said Beckemeyer. “We also want to be a force for good decision-making when students take their first steps along that journey. We need to make sure their investment in Robert Morris is as affordable and manageable as possible.”

Capstone projects were reviewed by a panel of outside experts from the College Board, PNC, Henderson Brothers, and Noel-Levitz. Also on the panel was RMU trustee Kolia O’Connor, head of school at Sewickley Academy, and Lois Bryan, university professor of accounting and senior associate dean in the RMU School of Business.

"The College Affordability Academy provides transparency about costs and strives to better inform students and families of options centered around affordability -- before the student ever borrows a penny,” said Kimberly McCurdy, a higher education access partner with the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA).

“And if they have borrowed, faculty and staff, who are trusted advisors, are now equipped to have informed discussions and perhaps offer suggestions about how to keep borrowing low, which will greatly impact a student's future. Information is power, and RMU is creating a culture for students to be successful whether at RMU or anywhere else their pursuits take them," said McCurdy. 

RMU Enrollment manager Sarah Burns said the College Affordability Academy gave her tips to help articulate to families the factors they should consider in comparing one institution to another, as well as the implications of borrowing to pay for college and how to minimize debt. That meant a lot to Rich DiCarlo, a Steubenville man whose son Alex has decided to enroll at RMU in the fall.

“The admissions staff opened up to my family about what to expect and what the process was going to be like,” said DiCarlo. “Alex knew exactly what he was going to get.”

RMU plans to partner with PHEAA, PNC, the College Board, and the Pittsburgh Promise, among others, to share the College Affordability Academy lessons with high school guidance counselors; state legislators and policy makers; other colleges and universities; and parents and prospective students across Pennsylvania and elsewhere.