Last year, I posted a blog about our very first EMA conference and how we were the new kids on the block (they had a bunch of hits). This year felt like an entirely different experience. This time around, we were seasoned booth assemblers and definitely did not put together the 10ft backdrop backward…twice. No, that, of course, did not happen. We absolutely did not scramble and likely stressed out the helpful UPS shipping folks at the hotel trying to find box 3 of 4. Never in a million years. Once we did get our booth set up in the ultra-smooth, stress-free, sweat-free process that it was, we took a moment to look around and realize just how much had changed in one year.
Perhaps the most striking and consistent takeaway I heard from my colleagues was that people knew who we were. Last year, there were many “Who are you and what do you do?” moments, which was to be expected for a first-year startup. This year, however, having grown to over 600 client schools, we had many more “Oh hey, it’s great to see you in person! We love the product!” moments, which was humbling and gratifying. It was truly amazing to be able to connect with current schools using Clarity as well as brand new school users who shared how excited they are to be able to use the product this year.
During the conference, we saw that financial aid itself and the strategies that go into how awarding is done differently for various school types and markets was a big theme. I think one of the biggest takeaways is the widespread acknowledgment that the population of families who are applying (and qualifying) for financial aid is fundamentally different than it was even 5 or 10 years ago. We are seeing more business owners, high net-worth households, rental properties, and overall complex asset portfolios than ever before. Some of this is a function of tuition increases, but it’s also an indicator of how the segment of the market that is considering private schools views its financial stability. The effect of all of this is that we have ushered in a new era of financial aid, and the old playbooks don’t work quite as well. We must now look at developing new policies and approaches to aid that meet the reality of the moment.
Finally, and on behalf of the whole Clarity team, I want to thank everyone who came out to our event at Dave & Buster’s. With the conference located in Las Vegas, there was no shortage of options for after-hours activities, so we all deeply appreciated seeing nearly 200 people on Wednesday night for food, drinks, and games! We are looking forward to working with each and every one of our partner schools this year to bring the very best financial aid platform to hundreds of schools and thousands of families. See you at the next conference!