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Articles: Financial Aid

At one time, each of Connecticut’s 12 community colleges ran its own financial aid office by its own rules. Ten years later, the Connecticut Community College System has doubled the number of students. Now all 12 colleges use FAFSA alone to determine eligibility. All use the same “satisfactory academic progress” requirement for students who receive aid and those who don’t. Simplifying eligibility rules and centralizing some functions freed financial aid staffers to focus on helping students instead of pushing paper, Marc Herzog, the former chancellor, told the College Board.

Financial aid information is easy to find at Pierce College.

Working one’s way through college is the norm for community college students: 85 percent work part- or full-time. With an average tuition bill of $2,713 a year, only 13 percent turn to student loans.

But long work hours have a high cost, concludes a 2011 report by the College Board’s Advocacy & Policy Center. Only 21 percent of first-time, full-time community college students complete a degree or certificate in three years. The six-year completion or transfer rate is 31 percent. Part-timers, who make up 59 percent of enrollment, do even worse.

Very few colleges and universities have actually cut their tuition, according to a National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities survey of members released in June. Other measures have been taken, though. Some institutions have frozen or allowed buying of four years, including Catawba University (N.C.) and the Sage Colleges (N.Y.). Others have committed to lower tuition increases than in the past. For example, 2011-2012 tuition rates at these colleges have gone up modestly:

  • 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy: Free program from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants to help Americans understand their personal finances through every stage of life
  • CashCourse: Free, noncommercial online educational materials from the National Endowment for Financial Education

Six years ago, when Ted Beck became president and CEO of the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE), a nonprofit dedicated to helping Americans become more financially capable, student financial literacy had been overlooked by colleges and universities for a number of years.

"When I would talk to university presidents, parent groups, and students, they all thought [financial literacy] was a very important skill, but it was lacking in the college setting," recalls Beck.

With college costs still top of mind for most families, financial aid is more important than ever. Community college leaders are especially challenged to communicate the importance of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to their student body, which appears to be less likely to apply for federal aid. According to the report "FAFSA Completion Rates by Level and Control of Institution," 58 percent of Pell-eligible community college students applied for aid, compared to 77 percent of four-year students in the 2007-08 academic year.

paper chase

It wasn't as if the admissions office at Boston University did nothing to keep from drowning in paper, working 12-hour days and weekends, and falling behind on customer service.

Administrators engaged in annual streamlining, but with BU's applicant pool increasing by more than 10,000 over the past five years, it was difficult to keep up. More than 200,000 supporting credentials had to be processed and filed, and 38,000 applications needed to be ready for admissions staff to read by April 1. The entire process was time-consuming and cumbersome.


Of all the voluminous paperwork generated by institutions of higher education, perhaps none drowns administrators quite so much as the waves of financial aid forms that surge through offices. With lending institutions and government funding agencies maintaining a keen interest in where their money is going, students and staff alike must take care to cross every “T” and dot every “I,” and such attention to bureaucratic detail requires lots of paper—and lots of human capital to process it all.

Since the market crash of 2008, a number of private education lenders have left the marketplace. Those who have remained have not increased their lending to fill this gap and anecdotal evidence suggests that the remaining lenders have further reduced access to private education loans by tightening their credit criteria. Higher-education institutions have responded to the credit needs left unmet in the current marketplace by creating or revising their own institutional credit and payment arrangements.

financial aid

Complying with the growing and increasingly complex Title IV federal student aid regulations is an ongoing challenge for every campus that administers federal student aid. Performing a word count of student aid regulations in 2000 and 2010 reveals a 40 percent increase over that decade. A recent survey of financial aid administrators shows that increasing regulatory and compliance requirements are causing resource shortages in many financial aid offices.

As another school Semester begins, administrators will be confronted with a segment of their student population that does not go on to graduate. Attrition is nothing new, of course. It happens every year, as students begin their college careers in earnest, but find, for one reason or another, that they can't continue. Perhaps the student has financial difficulties or is simply not prepared academically or emotionally for the rigors of college.

Student financial literacy has been a growing concern, not only because of the connection to persistence and retention, but also in terms of success beyond college years that includes repayment of student loans and general fiscal responsibility in adulthood. We’ve likely all heard the stories of the $82 pizza, its price inflated by a check that bounced and resulting fees from the bank and pizza parlor. It shows the need for students to understand the consequences of spending money they don’t have.

The tornadoes that ripped across the South in April devastated everything in their paths. Some institutions had to close their doors before semester’s end.

Republicans and Democrats agree: The projected cost of the Pell Grant program is unsustainable. Now policymakers are looking at the best ways to reduce costs.

Some of the scariest risks on campus remain hidden until the moment that students, teachers, and staff experience them. Until the shooter kills, the funding disappears, or the opposing party files the lawsuit, everything seems fine. Then, the overwhelming grief takes hold or the power to educate diminishes due to lack of resources. That's why, as campus leaders know, action must be taken before the risk occurs.