Lauren Asher: Access to College for Low-income Students and Families

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Lauren-Asher

About Our Guest

Lauren Asher (right) is the president of Asher Policy Consulting. We met in 2004. 

She is a policy expert in student loans and financial aid for low-income students and families

Lauren breaks down several misconceptions. Did you know going to school part-time and attending community colleges are always cost-effective to low-income families? 

Really? I was just as surprised as you are. 

According to the CNBC, "Roughly 70 percent of grads leave college with student debt, and over 44 million Americans hold a total of $1.4 trillion in student loan debt." This episode is relevant to all of us. 

For the 14 years I've known Lauren, we've spent very little time together as a result of her travel and work schedule. Despite the distance between us (Boston to San Francisco), I looked up to her as a mentor and a female leader I had a tremendous amount of respect for. 

Here's the thing: I could never quite tell you what her job was (though I always knew it was important, and she made a huge difference in people's lives).

Selfishly, this episode is an opportunity for me to dive deep with Lauren and find out the What and the Why. For over 10 years, Lauren served as the President of The Institute for College Access and Success. Her job was to "align policies and systems with the lives and needs of low-income students and families". 

Perhaps we think we know a thing or two about "how policy is made". According to SparkNotes, in order to be made official, public policy legislation goes through five steps:

  1. The national agenda
  2. Formulation
  3. Adoption
  4. Implementation
  5. Evaluation

In plain English, Lauren explains to us how it works, and her role is in influencing the adoption and implementation of the policy.

Recently Lauren left her The Institute for College Access and Success to start her own consulting company.  She talks about her transition and who she hopes to partner with during the next chapter of her career. 

"Transition" is not only a popular subject on Feisworld, but also one of the very reasons why we started the podcast. As the new economy continues to emerge, most people we know - including our guests - are going through some sort of transitions themselves. 

Lauren has devoted much of her professional life to helping the under-serviced community and non-profits. If this career path interests you in any way, I hope you enjoy listening to Lauren's story and find your own path. 

Show Notes

[06:00] Tell us about what it means to help low-income families and students?

[11:00]  Most of the financial aid programs and policies are cryptic on purpose because otherwise, they end up costing more money. What’s your take on this?

[13:00] What was going through your head 10-15 years ago when you started this career?

[17:00] How do you advocate for what you believe in, and what are the issues you are really drawn to? What’s that process like?

[20:00] What are some of the things that you thought would be easier and turned out to be more difficult, and vice-versa?

[25:00] How do you manage to prepare a speech for what you advocate for that is time-limited? 

[29:00] How should low-income families go about selecting the college that suite their needs?

[33:00] What resources and help families can get to calculate costs?

[36:00] How can people educate themselves ahead of time about the college aid application process?

[38:00] What do you want to do next? Tell us a bit more about Asher Policy Consulting. 

[40:00] What are some of the people and companies you want to connect with?

 

Favorite Quotes

[10:00] My passion really was the work where I could come home at the end of the day and I’ve done something to help people who weren’t as lucky as I was. I was born into a white family of people who’ve been living in the US for a couple of generations, with college degrees and good jobs. I never had to worry about where to live and if there was food on the table. Those are tremendous privileges who are easy to be blind to.

[14:00] The work I ended up doing is about how do you empower the folks on the ground with better information, simpler processes, more rational and helpful resources, so that they can do their jobs more easily and people coming for help can get the help they need.

[18:00] Whatever issue you are working on, advocacy has this basic arc, that it never looks the same twice for the way you actually apply it, because you are dealing with such a complex world. It’s changing all the time…

[20:00] People didn’t identify as borrowers, there was no community of borrowers, there was no story that told a public clear narrative of how we ended up with so many people with student loans. It was treated like a personal problem, YOU have a student loan. And there wasn’t a movement to find solutions because there wasn’t a sense that there was a systemic problem.

[34:00] The advice I can give is: don’t stop at sticker price. There’s always a better alternative, you can always seek for help and aid, don’t underestimate it.

[41;00] There are a lot of things I can do reasonably well (as it’s the case for many people), and it makes me happy to know I’m good at them, but it is still not the same as ‘what makes me happy, really’...