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Articles: Financial Aid

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.

The Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA), passed in May 2010 as part of the Healthcare Reform Act, was an attempt to rein in the student loan industry and save money by taking private lenders out of the equation. But a year later, educators, parents, and legislators are asking, is the program delivering on its goals?

Typically, when institutions conduct exit surveys for students who withdraw prior to completing a degree program, featured prominently are financial aid, cost, or affordability. They usually garner one of the top slots for reasons listed for withdrawal prior to graduation. But research shows there are a number of other drivers that influence re-enrollment trends.

Chances are I am not the only college president being asked these days why my institution is not following Sewanee's lead and reducing tuition by 10 percent—or more.

Several years ago, before the recession, I was being asked a different question about my institution, Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y.: Why are we still including loans in student financial aid packages when a number of peer colleges have eliminated them?

And I imagine some of my presidential colleagues have been asked about Hamilton's decision last March to adopt a need-blind admission policy.

Future Shock

Darwin put it this way: "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change." This simple truth in nature may best describe the evolution of the most nimble higher ed ownership models in the 21st century.

The call for increased transparency in the college pricing and financial aid arenas is coming from many directions and is ringing louder and more clearly than ever. Institutional customers, students and families who have for some time been expecting more information, now want it more quickly and in terms they can understand easily and compare consistently across institutions.

We have written before about the importance of considering your institution's market position relative to competitors when planning future price increases. When sticker price position is higher than "prestige" position (based on publicly available measures like test scores, U.S. News rank, and selectivity) institutions often see declining demand.

We delved into the topic of admissions office budgets with a plan to feature the diminishing resources available to college admissions offices and how that situation has impacted enrollment efforts. But as it turns out, admissions counselors are also concentrating on the limited resources of their institutions as a whole, and, concurrently, the financial challenges faced by prospective and current students and parents.

Given the multiple goals and multiple players involved in developing and managing endowed scholarship funds, there are lots of opportunities for communication gaps, poor service, and less than optimal use of the funds. In an ideal world, endowed funds and annual gifts given for scholarship support would be used to take the place of unfunded aid in the offers made to students, freeing unfunded (and therefore unrestricted) resources for other purposes. However, many institutions are not able to achieve this efficient outcome for a number of reasons.

There are scholarships available for just about anything these days. In addition to endowed scholarships for students with names such as Zolp, Scarpinato, Gatling, Baxendale, Hudson, Thayer, Downer, Bright, and Van Valkenburg, many organizations offer awards for specific talents or interests.

It took one determined program director, two tries, three years, and much collective brainpower—but at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, today's interior architecture program students can earn a bachelor degree in three years rather than four.

When competing for top students, many colleges are finding that offering merit awards or generous need-based packages is no longer enough to win the day. Academically successful students typically have multiple offers from which to choose. So, all things being equal when it comes to financial aid, how does a college compete for the best and the brightest? Here are four ideas for sweetening the offer to the student that everybody wants—because it's not just about money anymore.

The financial pressures on institutions and the scrutiny on spending continue. But campus administrative offices also continue to find new ways to change their practices for the better.

As the stories of our Summer 2010 Models of Efficiency honorees demonstrate, there are a multitude of good ideas being implemented that streamline processes without reducing the quality of service that campus constituents deserve, and in many cases expect.

The recession has certainly forced everyone to do more with less, but financial aid administrators are dealing with a new level of this challenge. As with all campus offices, financial aid office resources and funding are being frozen or cut due to tight campus budgets. In addition, financial aid offices are serving more students and families than ever before and administering record amounts of financial aid.