The college financing system is difficult to understand for prospective students and their families, especially those most in need of this information—low-income and first-generation college students.
Financial barriers—perceived or real—often lead students to choose the institution that offers the most financial aid rather than preferred college or university. Families in need don’t always know where to look for available financial aid resources, or how to interpret those resources to distil the most important information.
This is acutely troubling since these families represent a growing enrollment segment at most institutions. An institution’s ability to connect these families with necessary information to not only inform their enrollment decisions, but their financial decision-making across their higher education, will dramatically affect enrollment, persistence, and student success in higher education.
To help staff better communicate with prospective students about college pricing, Wendy Beckemeyer, the VP of Enrollment Management at Robert Morris University (RMU), developed and launched the College Affordability Academy® (CAA) for admissions counselors, financial aid officers, faculty mentors, and student support staff.
These individuals typically interact with students and their families at critical touch points—when they are actively working through their financial decisions—and she saw a huge missed opportunity to leverage these interactions to provide more information to students. The goal of the initiative was to provide frontline staff with data about resources and key finance topics so they could include this information into their interactions with students.
“The idea behind the CAA was to transfer the information that’s available on a national basis and put it into chunks that would help the teams across the university have valuable information that they could share at the point in which people need it, and when they’re listening. One of the biggest challenges for all of us is to catch people when they’re listening, because it’s a very noisy environment. But the admissions counselors, and financial aid staff, and retention officers, and people around the campus, are connecting with students at a time in which they’re interested in listening.”
What stands out about RMU’s initiative
- The research and time spent on curriculum development and pedagogy leads to high quality information and effective sessions, which keeps participants engaged.
- The interactive structure provides staff with an opportunity to learn the applicability of their new skills, improving student interactions.
- The grassroots recruiting strategy allows for more cross-camp representation. Newly informed staff interact with students at various touchpoints throughout the recruitment and enrollment process.
- Staff members now have more robust interactions with prospective families, in which they highlight RMU’s competitive tuition rate and high placement rate compared with their peers.