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3 ways technology can help overcome financial barriers

When (and how) can schools help manage students’ financial stress?

May 4, 2021, By Christina Hubbard, PhD, Senior Director, Research Advisory Services

Financial pressure is the top reason that students leave college. Whether they have an inadequate aid package, lose their financial aid, or face a change in their family’s financial situation, students who would otherwise graduate don’t.

More colleges are rising to meet this need. Over the past year, I’ve spoken with dozens of partners who are moving beyond long-standing practices that leave students to bounce from office to office in search of information. Instead, they are proactively engaging students in order to prevent finances from derailing their students’ goals.

Here are three promising practices that other schools should adopt:

1. Help students anticipate actual college expenses

Students are often unaware of the hidden costs associated with attending college. What’s more, they don’t always know about the various sources of aid—or the requirements for maintaining it, such as reapplying each year. Too often, when their expectations don’t match reality, students suffer the consequences. Several of the schools I’ve talked to are looking for innovative ways to make students more aware of college expenses and any gaps in their ability to pay.

With this in mind, our product development team recently embedded a financial calculator into the student-facing app within Navigate. Colleges can list common expenses such as tuition and housing, and students are then prompted to consider supplemental expenses they may have overlooked, such as transportation or course fees. For students who want to see a more in-depth financial picture, they can also enter elective costs, such as haircuts or entertainment.

Satisfactory academic progress (SAP) fundamentals

In order to receive federal financial aid, institutions must have a satisfactory academic progress policy that informs students of the criteria that will be used to maintain financial aid eligibility and how frequently they will be assessed (typically each semester or once per academic year). Most schools use the following:

  • Completion Rate (67% rule)

    Students must successfully earn 67% of the credits they attempt in a term

  • Maximum Hours (150% rule)

    Students must successfully complete their chosen course of study within 150% of the total credit hours it takes to complete the program

  • Cumulative GPA Minimum (GPA rule)

    Students must maintain a cumulative GPA of at least 2.0

2. Intervene to prevent satisfactory academic progress (SAP) failure

Losing financial aid due to failing satisfactory academic progress (SAP) can be one of the most pivotal moments in a student’s college experience. The consequences are disastrous. Without access to financial aid, some of our most financially-strapped  students are forced to leave college without a credential and are saddled with debt.

The University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown assesses SAP annually. This provided a great opportunity to intervene with students who were off-track after the fall semester to provide additional support before students failed SAP. Advisors in the academic success center proactively reached out to students after the fall semester to inform them of what they needed to do to get back on track. Sometimes, the solution is as simple as adding an additional class for the spring term or reinforcing the importance of completing at least 67% of their classes.

Advisors at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown use Navigate to create a list of students to monitor and check in across the semester to ensure they’re on track for meeting SAP requirements by the time they are assessed at the end of the spring semester. Not only has this campaign resulted in this group of students gaining a much better understanding of SAP requirements, but almost half of them met those requirements by fall 2020.

  • 100

    first-term students were at risk of failing SAP and received outreach from advisors

  • 60%

    of students made schedule changes during add/drop after advisor meeting

  • 88%

    of students indicated at least general understanding of SAP requirements post-intervention

  • 44%

    of students who received this intervention met SAP requirements by fall 2020

3. Coordinate across offices to automate the SAP appeal process

While you won’t be able to prevent every SAP failure, you can help more students get their aid reinstated by providing a student-centered appeal process. When students are on the cusp of being forced to leave college, they risk falling through the cracks with every step they take. Leaders at Rutgers University – Newark sought a different approach. They wanted to reduce student bounce and eliminate the pitfalls that students faced with their former paper-based appeal process. The university’s staff uses Navigate to manage SAP appeals and minimize student bounce, even in processes that require approvals from multiple staff members.

When students who fail SAP need to formulate an academic plan as part of their appeal, they meet with their advisor to create that plan using Navigate. The advisor then submits the academic plan as a case for financial aid staff to approve. Financial aid staff review the plan and approve or deny the submission in the case notes. That allows advisors to coordinate with the student to get an acceptable plan submitted without additional campus visits. Once the plan is approved, the case is closed, and the advisor continues monitoring the students’ academic progress.

College is often the first major investment for most students. It is all too easy for them to make missteps without our guidance, and that can impair their ability to pay for college. Fortunately, colleges can help. With the right practices and tools in place, students can better anticipate college expenses, maintain their eligibility for financial aid, and reach their goals.

Christina Hubbard, PhD

Christina Hubbard, PhD

Senior Director, Research Advisory Services

Read Bio

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