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Articles: Financial Aid

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.

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.

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