By: 
Thomas W. Durso
Honoree: 
The University of Arizona

The financial crash of 2008 gave Arizona’s college students a one-two punch. First, the state’s financial support dropped the furthest in the country. Second, scholarship dollars grew scarcer as donors had less to give.

To provide a financial aid boost, The University of Arizona developed a database that matches students with private scholarships for which they were eligible.

Students log onto a website where a series of questions guides them through the research process. Scholarship Universe, as it is called, not only matches students to scholarships but also lets them store documents needed for applications, apply for internal university scholarships, request letters of recommendation and issue thank-you letters, among other functions.

“The easier we can make the scholarship process for students, the faster we can make it, the more opportunities we can provide to students,” says Ken Downs, Scholarship Universe’s program manager. “It just allows them to build on other things and ultimately graduate with a degree.”

Success Data Points

  • 754,714 page views on the scholarship home page and student site between January and April 2015, up from 593,572 page views during that period in 2014
  • 41,678 web sessions between January and April 2015, up from 31,813 in that period in 2014

Scholarship Universe is based in the university’s financial aid department, but there is close collaboration with colleagues in student affairs, who developed the algorithm that underpins the website and who market the program to students. Over the last several years, numerous individual colleges and departments came on board. Downs estimates that Scholarship Universe now has about 30 partners across campus.

Scholarship Universe helped University of Arizona students earn more than $2.4 million in private scholarships this academic year, up from more than $2.3 million last year. The system also offers access to an additional $4 million in guaranteed internal awards. Page views are up, bounce rates are down and the site was recently redesigned to provide more content and greater usability for students.

“Scholarship success is really allowing students to be successful in other areas,” Downs says. “If you win scholarships, you may not have to take on a part-time job or two jobs that take away from your studies and take away from your time to explore and get involved with clubs and organizations and volunteer opportunities.”