By Joelle Fredman, Communications Staff
Schools must take steps beyond offering financial aid if they want to ensure that low-income students remain and succeed in college, according to a new report by the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.
The November report, “Making College More Affordable,” outlines 11 ways that schools can help low-income students by seeking out obstacles to affording college at every step of the financial aid process and developing ways to mitigate them.
Co-authors Crystal Coker and Jennifer Glynn argue that it is not enough for colleges to provide students with information about aid, rather they must make sure the information is sent to students who need it and that is written in a way they can understand. Oftentimes information about financial aid is only available upon request, and low-income students may not know to ask for it.
“Colleges and universities have a role to play in educating low-income students about how to pay for college,” the report said. “Schools can proactively support low-income students by providing clear, comprehensive information to all students, regardless of whether it is requested.”
Once students are made aware of their options, it is essential that universities simplify the process of applying for aid, according to the report. The Department of Education created the "Financial Aid Shopping Sheet" in 2012 to clarify confusing language on financial aid forms and allow for students to compare options for aid at different universities by standardizing applications. Since January 2017, 3,728 universities have used this form, and the report urges more schools to adopt this practice.
The report also suggests that schools should insist that students meet with financial aid counselors before making any decisions. In NASFAA’s 2015 Administrative Burden Survey of financial aid administrators, over 70 percent of survey respondents at two- and four-year institutions said their students had only “limited” financial literacy skills.
After students receive financial aid, schools should try to maintain the awarded amount throughout their college experience to ensure they can remain in school, the authors suggest. Studies show that students lose an average of $1,000 of grant aid at private schools over the course of four years.
Students may also struggle to afford college even with financial aid due to unforeseen obstacles, like financial emergencies or unexpected life events. A survey at the University of California revealed that one-fourth of students found themselves choosing between academic expenses and buying food. The authors suggest that schools be equipped to help students when issues arise mid-year, such as by offering emergency aid. After Lumina Foundation created projects to offer emergency aid to students at risk of dropping out of school, it found that “re-enrollment rates for low-income students were comparable to enrollment rates of the larger student body.”
Colleges and universities need to be more proactive in their financial aid practices in order to provide every student with an equal opportunity for success, the report said.
“Helping low-income students pay for college and increasing students’ financial literacy takes more than just a financial aid check,” according to the report. “It requires a commitment on the part of university administration and faculty members to consider both large and small financial obstacles standing in students’ path and to seek out ways to remove those obstacles.”
Publication Date: 11/14/2017