College Ave Student Loans Paves Straightforward Path to College
April 12, 2021 –
On the University of Delaware campus, College Avenue runs past red brick buildings and into downtown Newark. There is a College Avenue near both Swarthmore College and Pennsylvania State University. But the path to higher ed extends beyond the maps of university towns.
College Ave Student Loans is a Wilmington, Delaware-based private lender offering loans for undergraduate and graduate education. The company’s name tells it like it is. “We wanted to leave no confusion as to what we offered,” explains Joe DePaulo, CEO and co-founder, who understands that most people shop for loans online.
The company, founded in 2014, has carved out a niche in the marketplace. The website’s user-friendly interface boasts easy-to-understand language and graphics. As a result, College Ave simplifies what many view as a complicated process.
The approach has been a success. While DePaulo won’t disclose how many customers College Ave currently serves, he shares that the figure has six figures.
Today, the company has more than 60 employees. And in many respects, College Ave represents the next wave of businesses in Wilmington’s celebrated financial sector.
The student loan industry is a small sector in and of itself, especially when compared to car and home loans and credit cards, DePaulo notes.
There are two sources: federal and private loans. The former provides the bulk of Americans’ student loans. However, these funds rarely cover all of the costs. About 10% of student loans are from private lenders, DePaulo says.
In either case, applying for a loan is a jargon-laden process that does not become more familiar over time. While people may apply for a car or home loan throughout their lives, most only need a student loan for themselves or their children. DePaulo noted the complexity while filling out his student loan papers — and he’s well-versed in finance.
The Scranton, Pennsylvania, native previously worked for MBNA, the credit card giant purchased by Bank of America in 2006. After leaving MBNA, he started his own consumer finance company, which was acquired by Sallie Mae. As the CFO of Sallie Mae, DePaulo helped engineer the spinoff of Wilmington-based Navient.
DePaulo saw the opportunity. What if a private lender took the stress out of securing a student loan?
“We decided that we were going to focus on keeping the process simple, transparent and clear to allow the customer to feel like they have more control over the process and allow them to personalize the experience,” DePaulo explains. “We really are the only player in the industry that approaches the loan this way.”
Having an idea is one thing. Marketing the service or product is another. College Ave covers the bases, including direct mail and digital marketing. Company representatives also build relationships with colleges that provide lender lists.
Admittedly, any loan can lead to a negative experience between the parties if the customer does not repay it. College Ave works to nip that in the bud.
“We try to prepare the customer as much as possible,” DePaulo says. “We emphasize that you are not borrowing money to go to college. You are borrowing it to get a degree — an asset you can use for the next 50 years. We keep reinforcing graduation, graduation, graduation.”
College Ave urges customers to consider their monthly payment after graduation.
“Believe it or not, that’s more important than SAT scores,” he says. “I know the exam scores are important — they get you into school. But the loan gets you through school and gets you out.”
The company also recommends that students begin paying back their loans while still in school.
Since DePaulo has been in the financial sector throughout his career, Delaware has been an excellent place to live, he says. But there are other reasons why he likes the state.
“If you want an acre of land, you can have an acre of land,” he says. “If you want 10, you can have 10. You can live in the city, suburbia or a rural area. Travel is easy. Our mayor is friendly. Our governor is friendly.”
As the company grows, it will continue to reside in Delaware, partly due to the workforce. “Almost everyone in the company has come from the credit card industry, student loans or both,” he says. “The skillset for the credit card industry is the same skill set you need for student loans.”
He plans to add up to 20 more people in the next five years. “We try to give them a lot of responsibility,” he says of the team. “We recruit outstanding people, we compensate them well, and we keep them informed so they can make the company a bigger, better place.”