The latest changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) from the federal government take effect on October 1, 2016. But don’t wait until October to prepare. These changes have immediate, far-reaching implications for financial aid offices and for campus offices of student recruitment, marketing, and retention.
I know some campuses are preparing now in earnest. To gauge how campuses are planning to respond to the new rules, we recently conducted a poll that produced these findings:
As shown above, the majority of undergraduate officials indicate they will be adjusting their communication flows and providing earlier estimates of financial aid in response to the federal government’s new FAFSA rules which allow use of Prior-Prior Year (PPY) income information. In addition, many are working to set tuition earlier and some will be admitting students earlier.
Two-year community and technical colleges
Two-year public colleges are also preparing for the changes. Parallel findings for this sector showed the following:
Although fewer two-year campuses had made plans, these data show a variety of initiatives are under way to prepare for the coming changes.
There is a sense of urgency surrounding PPY, as it is now less than eight months away. We expect those who respond quickly and carefully to PPY to be at a competitive advantage. Indeed, the financial risk to a campus may not be in the cost of adjusting to the new rules, or in awarding additional aid, but rather in the loss of opportunity to compete and communicate earlier.
A planning document with 40 initial recommendations from Ruffalo Noel Levitz is available to assist your institution with responding to this important change. Included are:
- Immediate recommendations for financial aid offices, with implications for admissions/recruitment and marketing
- Initial recommendations for marketing and admissions/recruitment offices, with implications for financial aid offices
One of the most pressing priorities—and greatest opportunities—will be for institutions to begin issuing their financial aid awards earlier than in the past. This change isn’t optional. Students and families will be expecting earlier awards. The primary intent of the new legislation is to allow students and families to understand, earlier, what their costs will be for higher education.
Current best practice for sending award notifications is late February/early March (two months after the January 1 FAFSA filing date). Therefore, we recommend that institutions communicate realistic expectations to prospective students and also be prepared to deliver awards no later than December 1, 2016, which we anticipate will become the new best practice. We also recommend these awards include estimated amounts for federal and/or state grants which will need to be adjusted appropriately when official numbers are ready.
Other recommendations include: adjusting communication flows to prospective students; reaching out to students earlier; and offering scholarships earlier. In a post-PPY environment, communicating more with sophomores and juniors – and their parents – may become the new normal. Recognize that many high school seniors will no longer have a long period in which they become attached or inclined toward choosing a particular institution before they learn how much it costs.
Adjustments to communication flows will also be needed for students who are admitted earlier. These students will be admitted and given financial aid information by the time we reach the winter holidays. Campuses will need to emphasize affordability, value, and outcomes, from all communication channels, to keep admitted students engaged until they arrive on campus. See all the recommendations in our white paper: How to Respond to New FAFSA Rules for Prior-Prior Year
Learn more about how to prepare for PPY at our free one-hour webinar in June:
New FAFSA Rules for Prior-Prior Year:
How to Respond and Compete in the New Environment
Wednesday, June 1
2:00-3:00 p.m. Eastern Time
Learn more and register
Questions? Want to discuss your PPY strategy?
Email ContactUs@RuffaloNL.com or call 800.876.1117 to discuss your PPY strategy with a consultant from Ruffalo Noel Levitz, or to explore new approaches to managing recruitment, marketing, and communication that allow campus staff to strengthen their focus on bringing in the next class as they prepare for PPY.
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