How Villa Maria College uses Arbol data to improve financial health of students
Village Maria College
Private four-year college in Buffalo
Fall 2023: 452
Fall 2014: 477
How it started
Arbol’s relationship with Villa Maria College stretches back to a 2022 meeting with college president Matt Giordano.
Over sandwiches from the school’s bustling cafeteria, the discussion centered on how Arbol’s nudge-based system drives students toward financial security. But when Arbol’s team talked about the kind of data this work was generating, Matt looked up.
“Hey, this is the type of data we would pay for,” he said.
That was the start of a deep relationship, as Arbol pivoted toward building products that could give college staff proactive insight on their student population. Villa Maria now introduces Arbol to all of its students through its Core 101 course (more than half of Villa Maria’s students are now active users, and that percentage increases every week).
Real-time data. Deep data. Actionable data.
Villa Maria College students interact with Arbol through its student-facing app, which helps them manage their constellation of income, expenses and debt through a system of nudges and rewards. This system is tuned toward strong, long-term financial planning.
It’s also a way of presenting resources to students that need them – including everything from one-on-one coaching to microgrants and loans. Villa Maria staff members get access to granular, proactive insight on the financial condition of individual students, allowing them to intervene in cases where financial insecurity could lead to a dropout. The college also gets more generalized data that can inform broader strategy.
A few examples of how this works from the fall 2023 semester include:
- Arbol’s system flagged a student, Tommy Danh, who was financially vulnerable. Tommy accepted the offer of a financial coaching session, where he explained he was a straight A student whose family’s financial situation was deteriorating. He planned to drop out. Arbol and Villa Maria worked with Tommy to build a plan that restored his confidence and put him back on the path toward graduation. Villa Maria’s existing system of risk assessment would only have caught Tommy’s financial vulnerability after he’d left college.
- Arbol hosts a monthly ‘Campus Insights’ meeting with Villa Maria staff, where it shares its dashboard and explains the trends and insights on campus. That can include conversations around individuals such as Tommy, but it can also drive strategic or programmatic discussions. That insight has led Villa Maria to prioritize its free food pantry – which was not consistently stocked. Now the college is both stocking the food pantry and marketing it.
Bigger goals in mind
Villa Maria is a small college that serves many low- and middle-income students in a highly competitive market. Arbol has been built in deep consultation with its leaders as a specialized retention system that seeks to meaningfully improve dropout rates. As more students use the platform and the relationship deepens, Villa Maria will get better and better at using data to support its business.
They said it…
“Retention is one of the most important issues in higher education right now, and we’re getting a chance with Arbol to build a unique solution that is a specific response to our problems.” - Matt Giordano, Villa Maria College president