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Have you optimized your financial aid strategy for grad and professional students?

May 23, 2024, By Amy Luitjens, Managing Director, Partner Success, Adult Learner Recruitment

Anyone who works in marketing and enrollment knows that graduate and professional students are increasingly basing enrollment considerations and decisions on cost. In our most recent survey of prospective graduate students, respondents ranked “financial aid/scholarships” as the most important factor they weigh in selecting where to enroll. And more than half of respondents expected to receive financial aid offers. Our financial aid optimization division, which has supported colleges and universities for more than 30 years, has also fielded more requests for insight into financial aid for graduate and professional school students than ever before.

Although questions and concerns about financial aid for graduate and professional students are growing, few institutions have the resources to develop, support, and sustain a robust financial aid strategy for their professional and graduate programs. But a sound financial aid strategy can provide strategically important enrollment insight and optimize enrollment goals such as headcount and net revenue.

For enrollment leaders interested in building out their financial aid strategy for graduate and professional programs, here are a few steps to get started.

1. Conduct a multi-year historical analysis of admitted and enrolled student populations

The first step in developing your aid policy is to analyze trends across your admitted and enrolled student pools in recent years. As you analyze this data, consider questions like:

  • What happened at your institution and in your programs this year—and in the market more broadly?
  • How do these trends compare to previous years?
  • Where do we see pockets of challenge and opportunity in the analysis?
  • How has the composition and yield behavior of our admit pool changed?
  • How did students respond to aid offers?
  • If there has been a less organized aid policy or process in the past, where we might suggest a more organized approach?

For our team of financial aid experts at EAB, this kind of analysis informs a logistic regression equation, which feeds into a live model we’ve perfected over 30 years of financial aid work.

Meet EAB’s Financial Aid Optimization Team

2. Design an aid policy that will help you best meet your goals

The next step is to create an aid policy that is focused, fits the mission of your institution, and can be operationalized. At EAB, our team of statisticians develops a rigorous econometric model to help inform financial aid policies for our partners. We look at a set of demographic variables—like geography, inquiry source, and ethnicity—against a set of financial aid variables. Our model also factors in proprietary third-party marketing data.  The model sheds light on what tradeoffs an institution might need to make via aid strategy to reach their ultimate goal—whether that’s increasing net tuition revenue, headcount, or other key areas of focus. The modeling work EAB does is transparent and conducted with our partners in live settings so that we can co-create an awarding policy most suitable to their institution.

3. Activate policy and track its efficacy in real-time for remainder of enrollment cycle

Once you’ve decided on your aid policy, it’s important to regularly monitor how your class is coming in, how you’re progressing towards aid and overall goals, and how the market is fluctuating. It’s critical to have the flexibility to adjust aid policy midstream if necessary. From January to mid-summer, our university partners meet regularly with their EAB financial aid optimization team to track these trends and work together to modify aid policy as needed—always keeping headcount and NTR goals in mind.

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  • 30+

    graduate and professional schools supported by EAB’s Financial Aid Optimization Division

Data transparency is key to this iterative process. Our partners have access to a live, real-time financial aid analytics dashboard (similar to the visual below) which shows how their funnel is building and how aid is being accepted. This self-service dashboard provides up-to-the-minute data on key metrics such as admits, net deposits, net tuition revenue, yield, discount rate, and institutional gift aid.

Screenshot of a breakdown of financial aid analytics

Setting an effective financial aid strategy is incredibly nuanced. But as cost becomes an increasingly important consideration in graduate and professional students’ calculus, it’s critical that aid strategies are robust, nimble, and backed by data with support from experts. A sound understanding of your historic enrollment patterns and a data-driven financial aid strategy supports better enrollment and revenue outcomes in the today’s competitive market.

Amy Luitjens

Managing Director, Partner Success, Adult Learner Recruitment

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