Time is always of the essence.
With 50% of college students struggling with food insecurity or financial hardships, there is no greater urgency. This startling statistic is why post-secondary institutions are morphing into social services organizations, providing students with mental health and social work in addition to offering food pantries.
Having an emergency aid program for students was a growing best practice among post-secondary institutions before the COVID-19 pandemic, disbursing micro-grants to students for monthly bills. Institutions view these grants as investments in their students, helping them in the short-term to earn their long-term revenue. Emergency aid programs bring together multiple departments from student affairs, financial aid, the office of advancement and even the Provost or President level.
Looking to streamline the entire application and disbursement process, Edquity is a white-labeled platform that institutions are partnering with to help students engage in a quick, equitable emergency aid disbursement process.
Edquity CEO David Helene says the time it takes to distribute this emergency aid can take as long as 10 total hours, involving potentially 30-40 staff members at an institution. With Edquity, a student can have a contactless experience from start to finish, submitting an application in minutes and receiving a disbursement 24 hours later.
“We built technology to make sure we are assessing the conditions of poverty and not the narrative a student may be willing or unwilling to tell,” Helene says. “We’ve designed a better experience and can get cash assistance to students within 24 hours. Dwolla is primarily how we get those funds to the students.”
After initially starting as a resource referral partner, Edquity has helped disburse more than $5 million in aid since 2019. Students can complete the submission process in minutes, regardless of time or day.
“We’ve seen 90% of the students we served with one of our partners retained, think how that impacts the bottom line and tuition revenue,” Helene says. “85% of the students we work with use direct deposit, making Dwolla a critical backbone to our ability to do our work.”
Faster Processes Lead to Faster Disbursements
Helene, who was named to Forbes 30 Under 30, says he’s always felt strongly that post-secondary institutions need to be ready to help their students through inevitable hardship to help keep them in school. Ultimately, more students equals more revenue for the institution.
After living through the COVID-19 pandemic, the framework institutions are utilizing to provide emergency aid is being applied to municipalities as well.
“It’s hard to turn around 20,000 applications for aid when COVID happens and you are trying to get millions of dollars in federal funding out,” Helene says. “And when you are dealing with low income individuals that are dealing with emergency payments, you need to make sure cash can get to the individuals. That’s where Dwolla’s payment infrastructure has been critical.”
He says Edquity wasn’t going to build its own payments infrastructure and that the search lasted only a few weeks.
“We needed something that was affordable, trusted, had a track record and was willing to take a chance on us,” Helene says. “Reputation was important to us, we wanted to mitigate any distrust both on the part of the institution and us. We didn’t want to be messing around much in the payments space. From a credibility and trust standpoint, with Dwolla we know the money will get to where it needs to go—and safely.”
Helene said he wasn’t needed much during the payment integration, leaving that project to the CTO.
“There’s always going to be learning like with any integration but there wasn’t anything tremendously difficult with the Dwolla integration, which is the best thing I can ask for as CEO,” Helene says.
1. Transfer Initiated via the Dwolla API to fund Dwolla Master Balance
2. Transfer Initiated to Send Funds Received by the End User
Changing the Status Quo
Despite a majority of post-secondary institutions offering some sort of emergency aid program, distributing that aid is especially time consuming.
“Payments are the toughest part for many institutions,” Helene says. “There’s no universal option, some use the existing financial aid infrastructure, checks are not uncommon but they require involvement from the receiving party. Direct deposit is certainly the easiest and most preferred mechanism for students.”
The COVID-19 pandemic shined a light on additional opportunities for Edquity, specifically with municipalities across the country.
“We’re seeing this need to be more flexible and nimble to meet the needs of our communities, especially with COVID,” Helene says. “That requires being able to get set up and cash out quickly to individuals. Cash transfers as a policy tool is here to stay.”
He says their staff has doubled and the company is looking to double its footprint in 2021 both in the post-secondary space and with municipalities.
“I’m supportive of moving to faster payments and more digital payments infrastructure,” Helene says. “The real-time payments movement is indicative of the direction we need to go as an industry. Thinking through the timeliness of payments and understanding your end user is critical. Because of Dwolla, we’re able to do that.”