Most financial aid awarding policies evolve over time, and if done well, are informed by data analysis and predictive modeling on an annual basis. Other aid policies, such as criteria for scholarship renewal, number of semesters of eligibility for institutional aid, and readmit aid policies, often go unchanged for years or even decades. As consultants, we have been on campuses where we will ask about the thinking behind a particular policy, only to be told some version of “it’s been that way forever.”
It is important for institutions to consider how their aid policies for returning students affect enrollment goals such as retention and graduation rates. Aid policies that were appropriate years ago, when an institution may have enrolled a different population of students, may not work well if the landscape has changed. For example, for institutions that are now enrolling a larger percentage of first generation college students or Pell Grant recipients, the aid policies for continuing students could actually be a barrier to completion. Aid offices should reevaluate their policies every few years to ensure that unintended consequences are not at play. Consider asking yourselves these questions:
- What is the average number of semesters to obtain a degree, and does our aid policy encourage degree completion in four years, or are we “shutting off” aid eligibility too soon for students who are not at all likely to complete in four years?
- Do our merit scholarship renewal policies undermine retention of students who are making satisfactory academic progress?
- Are our readmit aid policies fair to students who left in good academic standing? If students return in good standing, are they still eligible for the awards they had upon departure?
- How do we treat transfers who first applied as freshmen and may have received a larger institutional aid package as a freshman than they are now receiving as a transfer?
- How do we respond to appeals for returning students? Are we using data to understand how increasing grants to continuing students affects retention and net revenue?
When was the last time your aid office reviewed these important policies? Is it time for an update?