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Helping Students Fund College (David Wuthrich/Student Connections)

Students want to get a college degree but they are not confident they’ll be able to afford getting all the way through. The Ruffalo Noel Levitz 2016 Motivation to Complete College Report found that more than 50 percent of first-year students want to talk with someone about getting scholarships and guidance in getting a job during the academic year and summer. Interestingly, only 28 percent want to talk about getting a loan – an unrealistic point of view given the cost of education at most institutions and the limited grant and scholarship aid that may be available to individual students.

 

Here are some questions to ask yourself as you evaluate your institution’s process for assisting students with their college funding:

 

Are you helping applicants complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)?

FAFSA completion has been getting a lot of attention lately as institutions and organizations are looking at closing the opportunity gap for students with limited means. Nationally, only about 40 percent of high school seniors complete the FAFSA versus the 66 percent who go to college.  The 2016 Ahead of the Herd FAFSAA Completion Report provides information for each state’s FAFSA completion rate. Rates range from a low of 18.6 percent for Utah to a high of 62.3 percent for Tennessee. In addition, the National College Access Network (NCAN) reports on FAFSA completion rates for 68 U.S. cities for the high school class of 2015. The average for all 68 cities is 48 percent. Despite the efforts underway such as high school nights and College Goal Sunday events, families need additional assistance in completing their financial aid applications.

 

A recent article in Education Week reports that Where Students Need Financial Aid the Most, Fewer Apply. In the first national study to examine the correlation between a school district’s wealth and its FAFSA application rate, the poorer the school district, the less likely students are to fill out the FAFSA. While some states are exceptions, generally, each 10-percentage-point increase in a district’s poverty rate tends to be accompanied by a three-percentage-point decline in its FAFSA completion rate. This particular report suggests that states not only focus attention on improving the rates, but they should also consider focusing particular effort in high-poverty school districts.

 

Are you tracking FAFSA completion for continuing students?

As I’ve travelled around the country talking about this issue, I always ask if anyone is tracking FAFSAA completion rates for continuing students at their institutions. Most of the time, the response is “no.” In Here Today, Gone Tomorrow? Investigating Rates and Patterns of Financial Aid Renewal Among College Freshmen, the authors found that approximately three-fourths of students refile a FAFSA for the following year, while one-quarter do not refile. Further, Pell Grant recipients are more likely to refile (83.3%) and Pell Grant recipients who earn a 3.0 or higher GPA their freshman year refile at 84.5%.

 

What can you do to help students complete the FAFSA?

In Financial Aid Mindsets among Low Income Students from October of 2016, NCAN reports that undeserved students are greatly misinformed or completely uninformed as it relates to financial aid for postsecondary education. Despite all the information available about financial aid, it’s not getting to the students who need it most.

 

The report recommends that institutions provide one-on-one assistance in completing financial aid applications, facilitating the online completion of the FAFSA and requiring students to meet with financial aid staff. These activities can help drive up FAFSA completion rates for both incoming and returning students.

Should Financial Literacy be a Financial Aid Office initiative? (David Wuthrich/Student Connections)

Whenever I’m working with faculty and administrators on student success plans, as soon as I bring up financial literacy, everyone turns to the financial aid office for ownership, development and delivery. There are many reasons why. Often, we assume that financial literacy efforts are related to default prevention or that only students receiving financial aid need money management education. I would argue that financial literacy efforts need to be a campus-wide initiative and would be better served with their own structure or owned by a cross-functional task force.

 

Here are some reasons why:

  • In July 2016, Fortune Magazine reported results from the National Capability Study that found nearly two-thirds of Americans can’t pass a basic test of financial literacy. This includes information on how to calculate interest payments and basic questions about financial risk. Given this data, you want to make sure that your money management education efforts are available to all students. In fact, you might even want to make sure that financial literacy education is available to all members of the campus community.
  • COHEAO’s Financial Literacy Awareness White Paper, March 2014, states that “Financial Literacy programs do not necessarily fit exclusively within the mission of any single department or division.” The authors suggest that a wide net of potential stakeholders and advocates will enhance the probability of launching and sustaining a program. Representatives from offices such as academic deans and advisors; bursars; career services; enrollment management; admissions and first-year experience; alumni relations and development; and financial aid have similar interests in ensuring students develop money management skills. Other departments, such as the library, information technology and institutional research, may be helpful in providing resources and helping to track participation and outcomes. And don’t forget to include students in your planning efforts!
  • Anecdotally, higher education administrators repeatedly tell me that information delivered in the classroom carries more weight with students than information from workshops or administration-led efforts. It makes sense that faculty are better equipped to bring innovative pedagogical methods to bear on financial literacy topics. Perhaps students take it more seriously if money management education is part of their coursework. Maybe it is related to the ability to apply theoretical concepts to real life situations. Do you find this to be true on your campus?

So, while financial aid administrators must be key players in developing and delivering money management education, the odds for a successful effort are greater when that education is developed and delivered by a campus-wide coalition of faculty and administrators. Each brings a unique perspective to the effort and creates multiple opportunities to provide students and community members with information that will help them be successful in school and in life.

Credits Up With 15 to Finish (From Inside Higher ED/Ashley A. Smith)

 

A new analysis examining the effects of Indiana’s 15 to Finish initiative finds the greater the financial incentive, the more likely students will take on a full-time course load — and with little to no negative impact.

The report examines the effects of the Indiana Legislature’s 2013 decision to increase the number of courses students needed to complete each year in order to be eligible to renew their state financial aid award. Students are now required to take at least 30 credits a year — or 15 a semester — to maintain aid. The move was made in an effort to cut down on students’ time to graduation. Some experts say students assume taking 12 credits per semester is enough for them to earn a degree in two years for an associate degree or four years for a bachelor’s degree.

The analysis from Postsecondary Analytics — a research consulting firm — found that the change in financial aid policy led to a 5.2 percent average growth rate in the likelihood of students earning 30 credits or more in a year. For students who received Indiana’s highest financial aid award, the average growth rate in the likelihood of earning 30 or more credits in a year increased 10.1 percent.

Despite concerns, the analysis also found that the policy change did not lead to a significant decline in completion rates, fall-to-spring retention rates, or in fall grade point average. There was a small decline, however, in 18- and 19-year-old recipients of Indiana’s smallest financial award.

“The financial aid policy is effective for increasing credit-hour completion,” said Takeshi Yanagiura, a doctoral student in economics and education at Teachers College, Columbia University, who co-authored the report. “We find little evidence on potential negative side effects due to the policy.”

Besides GPA remaining the same, the analysis found that there was no difference between whether students were at a two-year or four-year institution, and students also did not switch their majors.

“These results confirm our own internal studies we’ve done following what happens with financial aid students since the legislation passed in 2013,” said Teresa Lubbers, Indiana’s commissioner of higher education. “Our financial aid complements our other attitude about how we finance education in Indiana. We have a philosophy of paying for what we value.”

Lubbers said institutions receive performance funding by getting more students to complete on time, so creating the incentive for students to increase the rate they finish means that the colleges they attend will receive more aid, as well.

More institutions and states are looking at decreasing the time students take to a degree as a way to boost overall completion numbers. A growing body of research has pointed out that full-time students are more likely to graduate — although there are concerns about the unintended consequences that can come from policies that mandate or encourage full-time credit loads, for example on returning students or those with full-time jobs or family responsibilities.

Complete College America, which is based in Indiana, has advocated for 15 to Finish reforms across the country.

“CCA has long believed that time is the enemy of college completion,” said Sarah Ancel, vice president of strategy at CCA, who was also an associate commissioner at the state’s higher education department when the policy went into effect. “One thing that is really notable is the positive impact the policy has for underrepresented minorities. It’s a victory for completion, but also equity.”

The analysis found credit hours increased by 11.7 percent for ethnic minority students compared to 9.4 percent for nonminority students.

The analysis looked at two different financial aid awards offered in Indiana — the state’s 21st Century Scholars program and the Frank O’Bannon Grants — which make up the majority of the state’s aid programs. The 21st Century program is for low-income students who meet certain GPA and academic benchmarks. In 2014, the program awarded on average $7,900 to first-time students at four-year institutions and $3,630 to first-time students at two-year institutions. With the state’s financial aid policy change, students had to maintain 30 or more credits a year to continue to receive the annual scholarship.

The O’Bannon Grant is also need-based, however, the highest award amount for private university students is $7,400. For four-year students, it’s $3,700, and for two-year students, it’s $3,100. Under Indiana’s 15 to Finish policy, students also have to maintain 30 credits a year to receive the maximum award amount, but students who complete 24 credits or fewer could lose up to $300 if they received the maximum award.

“A lot is at stake for our 21st Century Scholars — if they don’t complete the credit hours, they lose the scholarship and they would fall into another financial aid pool,” Lubbers said. “The students who have the most to lose felt the greatest sense of urgency to pick up extra credit hours.”

Despite the positive results, Yanagiura cautions that they are based on short-term outcomes and there is more about the policy that needs to be studied.

“The policy is still only a few years old, and long-term outcomes are not available yet and beyond the scope of this study,” he said, adding that those long-term outcomes include graduation, wage and student debt.

https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/05/23/analysis-indiana%E2%80%99s-15-finish-finds-positive-effects

Rhonda Mohr receives Lifetime membership in CCCSFAAA! (Peggy Fiske/CCCSFAAA Past President)

Please join me in congratulating Rhonda Mohr, Dean of Student Services and Special Programs, who received a rare Lifetime Membership Award from the California Community College Student Financial Aid Administrators Association (CCCSFAAA) at its annual conference on March 28-30, 2017, in Monterey. This award is presented to those whose professional career demonstrates selfless service in fulfilling the mission of the association and for their tenacious advocacy for the students, as financial aid professionals within California’s Community Colleges.

The application nomination lauded her leadership citing that, “…she asks… and she listens. How many meetings have we seen her quick and easy smile turn serious when questioning a policy or regulations. She has faith in the organization to get it right and continues to serve when confronted with even the most difficult task. We are very fortunate to have Rhonda Mohr at the Chancellor’s Office leading us.

What are you doing to help your transfer students succeed (David Wuthrich Student Connections)

If school, state and national goals related to college completion are to be met, higher education needs to do a better job with helping transfer students succeed. Like their full-time, first-time counterparts, transfer students report a high commitment to attending college and finishing school; however, fewer than one in seven community college students who transfer complete a degree.

Choosing a pathway
 Deciding how to get to their education goals from where they are today can be difficult. Ruffalo Noel Levitz’ 2013 report on The Attitudes and Motivations of College Transfer Students found that up to 62 percent of respondents at four-year public institutions, 58.7 percent at four-year private schools and 49.7 percent at two-year public schools wanted help in preparing a written academic plan for graduation.

Funding College
In the same study, more than half of all transfer students indicated they do not have the financial resources needed to finish their programs of study.  More than half also reported they have financial problems that will interfere with their studies.

Boosting Productivity
Even though they have some college experience behind them, transfer students noted in the study that they would like to receive help with student skills, such as time management, taking notes and exam strategies.

Getting Hired
The majority of respondents in the study wanted the opportunity to explore advantages and disadvantages of their chosen career. Across all institution types, they also wanted help in identifying work experiences or internships related to their major.

There is a lot of activity helping students transfer from public two-year to four-year institutions. A January 2017 study by the Community College Research Center suggests that in the state of Texas, state policy needs to address three primary issues in order to strengthen transfer student success in the state: create stronger transfer pathways, help students choose and stay on a transfer pathway, and build momentum for regional community college-university collaboration to improve transfer outcomes.

Schools are responding to these needs in many ways. Orientation programs specifically designed for transfer students are either required or optional at many institutions. Ruffalo Noel Levitz recommends making these programs required in order to reach a larger number of students. I also noted dedicated advising staff for transfer students at many institutions.

You may want to look at what you are doing to help your new students in the areas of choosing a pathway, funding college and getting hired. Are your current offerings helpful to your transfer population? Do they have the same opportunities to participate as your new students? Are they offered in such a way as to be convenient to your transfer population? Are there institution-specific barriers to transfer-student success that you can address?