In the U.S., higher education is treated like a necessity but priced like a luxury.
Financial aid isn’t always enough to ensure that students can make it through college without taking out loans. But students across the country are finding unique and creative ways to ease the burden of tuition costs.
One of these ways is through help from corporations.
A recent press release from Anheuser-Busch unveiled this year’s iteration of the Natural Light College Debt Relief Program. The brand has announced its dedication to alleviating student debt by pledging $10 million for distribution over the next ten years.
Daniel Blake, senior director of value brands at Anheuser-Busch, said rising college debt is important to Natural Light because it’s a critical issue to the company’s core consumer.
“This was really born out of our dedication to our fans,” Blake said. “We know how deeply this impacts them so we created this program to help address the issue for as many people as we can and hopefully call more attention to it on a national stage.”
College students certainly make up a large portion of the consumer base of inexpensive beer, but not all college students are eligible for receiving funds. As part of the submission for the College Debt Relief Program involves purchasing Natural Light, meaning only those who are 21 or older are able to participate.
Luckily for those who haven’t been to college in years but still have student debt, the working definition of a “college student” is quite broad.
Blake said anyone who has received credit for a college course within the last ten years is eligible, meaning graduates who still have student loans to pay off can enter.
“We certainly see lots of students and recent grads, but the age range is varied, which is great,” Blake said. “We’re seeing plenty of folks well into their 30s and 40s, which just shows how large of a demographic the student loan debt issue affects.”
The application process is simple: Applicants must post a video to a social media website of their choice about their personal inspiration for going to college, according to the press release. The video must include the recognizable green dollar-sign tab found on limited-edition cans of Natural Light, and it must be accompanied by the hashtags #NattyStories and #Contest for eligibility.
In addition to the College Debt Relief Program, Natural Light has another promotional sweepstakes centered on student loans that involves the Super Bowl. According to the press release, Natural Light will be teaming up with Cash App to distribute $53,000 in real time to 151 fans during the game. The fans who win will each receive $351, an amount derived from the average monthly student loan payment, according to Student Loan Hero.
“Cash App is very popular amongst our target drinker but also, it allows us to distribute payment in real time based on who reaches out to us on social [media] on game day,” Blake said.
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For those still under 21 and looking to get ahead of their growing mountain of loans, University of Wisconsin released a new program designed for students to get easy access to scholarships.
The Wisconsin Scholarship Hub replaced [email protected] in August 2018 as the university’s online scholarship management system, built on the goal of alleviating the confusion that surrounds the search process.
The program’s development was spearheaded by the Office of Student Financial Aid and solicited collaboration from schools, colleges, and departments from all over campus, said Keith Brown, the assistant director of special awards at OSFA. Collaboration was important to ensure that each student can easily find opportunities for which they are specifically eligible.
“WiSH is intended to provide students with an effective, intuitive tool for researching, applying for, and accepting campus scholarship awards,” Brown said. “Through partnering with Scholarship Administrators and campus leadership to launch WiSH, we’ve helped to bring some consistency to what can be a very confusing process.”
Brown reported that around 15,000 students have started utilizing WiSH since August of 2018, and more than 90,000 student and applicant records have been loaded into the WiSH system, allowing certain students to be awarded scholarships without requiring an application.
Additionally, the WiSH system is integrated with UW’s financial aid system to make accepting and evaluating financial aid offers as comprehensive and transparent as possible for students, Brown said.
There are plenty more objectives for the future of WiSH, Brown said and after the completion of a full academic year with WiSH, there will be plenty of data to analyze and evaluate.
Overall, Brown and colleagues are optimistic about the trajectory of the program.
“Above all, WiSH is but one component of our office’s goal to provide access to a UW-Madison education to as many students as we can, and we will continue our work to reduce student debt through scholarships into the future,” Brown said.