Offering guidance on major life decisions is never a simple task. Data on any subject moves fast and can be difficult to keep up with.
When you are in the business of helping people afford higher education, having the most up-to-date information makes all the difference in the quality of the advice offered.
To help organizations with challenges like these, Fox Management Consulting (FMC) at the Fox School of Business offers business plan development and strategic consulting for both corporate and nonprofit clients.
Philadelphia Futures, a nonprofit organization that serves the Philadelphia region, recently worked with FMC to help better inform its participants about the cost of higher education.
“Philadelphia Futures is an organization that takes first-generation, college-potential youth and gets them into college, walking them through the process of applying and getting funding,” says Donald Phillips, an industry professional who serves as a project executive with FMC. “They stick with students throughout their college experience through advising and mentoring, and the students’ rate of success is beyond what the average population achieves. So, Philadelphia Futures is very successful at what they do.”
Phillips has taken on several roles at Temple University after a successful decades-long career in the healthcare industry. He lectures on pharmaceutical advertising and promotion while also consulting with FMC. So far, he has worked on more than a dozen capstone course projects with FMC.
With Phillips overseeing their work, students in the Fox MBA capstone course were tasked with providing consulting on one of Futures’ services—monitoring school debt.
“Philadelphia Futures wanted to get even better at what they do,” Phillips says. “They wanted a better way to counsel their students on making informed decisions about what schools and degrees to pursue (and) what those different choices could mean for the kind of debt burdens students would have to take on to achieve their goals.”
During the course, students attended faculty-led weekly lectures on business planning and strategy, met with a mentor and developed a software solution for the client. This timeline provides students with an intensive and immersive opportunity to conduct research and gain valuable experience while making a real impact on an organization.
“The students built a calculator for counselors to enter information and to show the kinds of debt burdens different degrees would require, especially the differences in debt burdens when choosing among different schools for the same degree,” Phillips says. “There are a lot of variables at play, so the team had to consider those variables and determine which were critical to getting the job done.”
Diving deep into relevant industry research and developing a debt calculation tool under a tight deadline was not without its challenges, however.
“We had to essentially make ourselves experts in the field of student debt while developing software to calculate the data,” says Jeff Rowan, one of the seven MBA candidates on the team and developer of the digital tool. “It was a lot of data gathering and problem-solving.”
Managing expectations and assigning tasks within the team were also at the center of the challenges for the group to overcome.
“You have to rely on people that you don’t know in order to graduate, and you may not be familiar with the quality of work and communication styles each person brings to the team,” says Hailey Shabazz, an MBA candidate on the team. “Fortunately, we ended up building relationships and trust, and I got to learn from other business professionals outside of my personal bubble. I learned new ways of doing things and gained new perspectives.”
The team presented their project directly to the clients at Philadelphia Futures, giving the MBA students an experience that brings together the classroom and the corporate suite.
“The presentations we gave were the closest thing to a real-life consulting engagement,” says Erika Thayer, another MBA candidate on the team. “It was amazing.”
Amy Perez, vice president of college success at Philadelphia Futures, was the organizational contact for the student’s capstone project. Perez worked with the students throughout the course and reviewed the deliverables.
“The tool developed by the consulting team allows our staff to have a more comprehensive conversation with students who are making choices today that impact their debt and credit years from now,” Perez says. “Our guideline used to simply be ‘borrow as little as possible,’ but we can now have a more comprehensive conversation about specific careers and projected income compared to the amount of debt required to get that degree. Now we have a data tool that helps students plan for that reality.”
The MBA candidates’ work on the capstone project paid forward their education, helping Philadelphia Futures achieve its goal of expanding access to higher education and seeing that students successfully graduate.
“Having real-world experience in the capstone project was really worth it,” Shabazz says. “Instead of attending a standard lecture on how to build things in the abstract, we had to build it in real life.”
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