BOLD is ultimately about lowering students’ debt and helping them get the outcome they most want when they graduate: a job.
– Trey Simon, CEO, South Carolina Student Loan
Since 1973, South Carolina Student Loan (SCSL) has provided student loans to help people in South Carolina afford a post-secondary education. Based in Columbia, the private nonprofit offers loans with comparatively low interest rates for South Carolina students seeking an undergraduate education, as well as financing for teachers to advance in their careers. It also deploys teams of advisors who work closely with borrowers and their families to guide them through the complex financial aid process, limit their debt and find them valuable scholarships.
While they have been proud to help many students get school loans with good terms, SCSL leaders recognized a few years ago that they were also denying a number of borrowers from the state, largely because of weak credit scores. To Trey Simon, the organization’s CEO, that signaled they had to do more to meet the needs of those students. As Simon and his colleagues considered how to widen the circle of students who could get essential financing to go to college or get skills training, they also sought to raise the odds that, after graduation, those students could get sustainable work at a living wage.
Moreover, as a nonprofit serving South Carolina, it was part of the group’s mission to help employers in the state get more capable workers that they struggled to attract and keep. Many medium-sized employers in the state were already paying a lot of money to recruiters to find new workers but without many assurances that they could keep those workers for the longer run.
At about the same time Simon and his colleagues were discussing this new direction, they were also participating in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Talent Finance Design Workshop and were members of the Foundation’s Talent Finance Innovation Network. Simon heard a presentation about talent finance strategies by Jason Tyszko, U.S. Chamber Foundation senior vice president. Tyszko’s ideas prompted him and Ray Jones, South Carolina Student Loan’s vice president of loan programs, “to write down what we’d been talking about for that previous year. It forced us to realize there is a need here and that we have the ability to do something about it.”
The result was the founding of the BOLD Career Pathway Loan (BOLD stands for Better Outcomes, Less Debt.). The new offering provides loans (alongside other forms of aid) to students who might otherwise have difficulty overcoming traditional credit thresholds, and it offers them support and wrap-around services to get through rough personal patches that can disrupt their schooling. Perhaps most important, BOLD enlists employers to hire these students after graduation and pay off their loans in return for a prescribed number of years of service by the workers. For everyone involved, says Jones, the second word in the BOLD acronym is what counts most. “The ‘outcomes’ part of it is as important as creating less debt to the students,” he says. “Our thought was, how do you remove credit requirements from a loan and keep the risk of that loan to something we could bear? What we did was partner with employers that are contracting with these students, sometimes up to two years before they actually finish their education, so that the employer knows they have talent coming, and the student has the promise of that job” – along with the alleviation of all or most of their school debt.
“Historically, lenders in our space, focused on the one piece of the puzzle,” says Simon. “We focused on getting funds to the school so the student could go. So what we’re focused on here is setting the student up with a job and an employer so that they can be successful. I don’t know about you, but the reason I paid to go to school was to get a job.”
An elegant structure
In its initial phase, BOLD is focused on getting more nurses trained, and 17 participating hospitals from across South Carolina have already agreed to participate in the program. As many as 40 students have so far applied for BOLD support starting in the 2023-2024 academic year. BOLD is available to those seeking an Associate Degree in Nursing (or ADN), or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), as well as eight different types of job titles available in participating hospitals. Each hospital has the flexibility to offer students different terms. They can cover loans for as much as three years of schooling, and some have a maximum loan amount annually of $12,500 per year for a BSN student.
SCSL has long been a regular presence at college fairs and counseling sessions in high schools across the state, dispensing financing guidance to students and their families and helping them keep their future debt low through low-cost loans and grants for schooling. It now includes BOLD as one of its several products for students on a path to become nurses. If students have an interest in the program, SCSL encourages them to connect with one or more of the BOLD partners for conversations to explore if there is a good fit.
“There’s an initial agreement signed between the student and the hospital,” Jones explains. “At that point in time we take over the process by actually going through the functionality of making the loan. We have a promissory note and application. They complete that information and send it to us, and we approve the loans based on those terms that were previously defined.” At that point, those funds are disbursed directly to the school to help pay down the tuition and any other indirect costs they may have. Students can defer payment of their loans while they are enrolled in school. For every full year of employment after students get their degrees, the employers pay a percentage of the principal balance and accrued interest. If the students work the prescribed period of time, the employer will pay off their entire school loan debt. Students who decide to work at a different participating hospital have the flexibility to arrange a transfer.
Ultimately, BOLD is betting that will be enough of an incentive to keep students with one employer — or at least another that is part of the program — and from taking their skills and experience out of the state.
A cost savings for employers
Simon and Jones are also confident that the employers they partner with will be willing to invest their own money into the BOLD program. Hospitals in South Carolina — and in much of the rest of the United States — face workplace shortages so acute they are already paying signing bonuses, bringing in travel nurses at $200 an hour or more or reimbursing some nurses for continuing education costs. Under the BOLD program, the hospitals might, in some cases, pay down $25,000 worth of student debt. Simon and Jones say that could represent a cost savings compared to the recruitment and retention costs they are already incurring. They also think other industries in the state that also hunger for workers will want to take advantage of the same savings, too.
Indeed, in the coming years, SCSL wants to apply the BOLD model to fields beyond nursing. It is now in talks to partner with schools and employers to extend BOLD to students coming out of computer coding boot camps and community colleges and technical schools that produce plumbers, welders, truck drivers and paramedics. Also, the organization wants to expand the BOLD mechanism to those who want to go back to school for an advanced degree or specialized certificate programs that make them eligible for better jobs and higher pay within the organizations they already work.
Simon stresses that while he and his colleagues established BOLD primarily for students with weaker credit scores (a large portion of which come from South Carolina’s rural areas), it is not off limits to those with stronger credit. “It’s for anybody,” he says, “not just for someone who doesn’t have the credit.”
SCSL also sees wrap-around services as essential to the success of BOLD. The organization is dedicating some of its staff to help students navigate existing services in the event they need childcare, food assistance, mentorship or counseling.
That’s not something most lenders provide. But, again, BOLD is all about maximizing outcomes – about helping students get across the academic goal line, which will in turn get them a secure and rewarding job. That’s also music to the ears of school administrators, who will worry less about dropouts who translate into lost tuition. It also means employers will get the prepared workers they need.
“Ultimately, our goal is to have win-win-win situations,” says Simon. “We want the employers to get the workers they need. We want the students to get the jobs they need. And then we also want the educator to get revenue they need.”
Talent Finance is a collaboration of The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, the Greater Houston Partnership, Working Nation, Education Finance Council, SHRM, National Association of Workforce Boards, the National Governors Association, Social Finance, Jobs for the Future, and Uncommon Impact Studio. The mission of the Talent Finance Initiative is to make education, training, and credentialing more affordable, with less debt, and to achieve better outcomes for learners and workers. Talent Finance refers to the development and use of public and private instruments for aligning investments in talent development and in managing employment and income risks. Talent Finance explores how we can produce a better public-private approach for how we finance and invest in talent.
South Carolina Student Loan participated in our Talent Finance Design Workshop series. The Design Workshop is intended for public and private organizations and professionals who want to: (1) learn more about finance instruments and innovations that can used in talent development and management; (2) network with peers and finance experts; and (3) design a new or improve an existing project(s) for implementation. South Carolina is a member of the Talent Finance Innovation Network (TFIN), a community group dedicated to putting the Talent Finance guiding principles and framework into practice.
For more information about the Talent Finance initiative, visit uschamberfoundation.org/talentfinance.