Graduate financial aid practices that best serve students


Graduate financial aid practices that best serve students

July 29, 2022

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Stevie Dunphy

Director of Business and Finance, Office of Student Financial Services at Georgetown University

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of EAB.

The graduate population at Georgetown has been growing consistently over the past several years, and the number of students who are receiving financial aid as part of their graduate studies is growing right along with it. Graduate financial aid is crucial for these individual students, and a key piece of the enrollment puzzle from the university perspective. In this project, we wanted to look at our graduate financial aid practices and procedures to best serve our students while staying competitive.

As a starting point, I gathered feedback from graduate students on what they thought about financial aid through a meeting with the Graduate Financial Aid Advisory Board, who raised some substantial questions about our graduate costs of attendance (COA). Jumping off from there, we did research into the components of the costs of attendance at other schools that are a part of the Consortium on Financing Higher Education (COFHE).

We found that we define the components of the COA very similarly to our peer schools. There were some slight differences in travel, but being a school within a city with public transport, that was not unexpected. Interestingly, the specific issues that the students brought up were found to be outliers—big national news stories or anecdotes from students with unique situations.

Additionally, the Office of Student Financial Services (OSFS) already has an established, thorough, and collaborative process to update our graduate COAs each year. This points toward a potential disconnect in understanding between how we administratively define the COAs and how the COA is understood by graduate students.

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Moving forward, we believe potential solutions lie in the realm of improving communications to break down barriers to understanding. As a first step we will be providing more concrete examples of what a full graduate COA might look like across different programs and breaking down what goes into costs such as an "average living allowance." Then, we will work with departments across the university to be sure that these figures and terminologies are used consistently across all websites that discuss financial aid.

Finally, we can apply these same practices to communications that we send actively to prospective and current students such as the award letters—being sure that we are using clear and concise language to talk to students from recruitment through graduation and reviewing all communications to cut jargon. A review from graduate students like those who are a part of GFAAB can help make sure that we are speaking to students, not at them.

In putting this plan together, the following EAB resources proved the most useful: Clearly Communicate Price and Financial Aid, 10 Practices for Improved Yield Communications, and the module presentation on Communication and Presence that was a part of the EAB capstone journey.

See the fellows' blogs from the capstone projects

Stevie Dunphy and others participated in EAB’s Rising Higher Education Leaders Fellowship in spring 2022

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