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Using Scholarships Strategically

Colleges use scholarships to meet institutional goals, but they have to pick their priorities. In a guest post today, Chio Flores shares some thoughts on the strategic use of scholarships. Ms. Flores, director of financial aid at Washington State University, was scheduled to present on this topic at a session of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators annual meeting on Sunday.

Most financial-aid administrators would agree that institutional priorities drive scholarship awarding. However, the strategic use of scholarships is often multidimensional and complex. Our schools’ missions, wealth, size, and location are all factors that impact how we administer scholarships. As a director of financial aid at a four-year public institution, I know these factors continuously shape scholarship goal-setting on my campus. This is also the case for my co-presenter, Paula Luff, who oversees financial aid at a four-year private.

While we may not use the terms daily, discounting, net-tuition revenue, net cost, and merit versus need are common vernacular in our profession today. At the same time, the “3 T’s,” techniques, tools, and technology, are allowing us to reach a higher level of precision in planning and aid packaging than ever before.  Regardless of what our respective schools’ goals for scholarships may be–to improve our enrollment profile, promote population or program growth, or develop ethnic or socioeconomic diversity–certain approaches are better than others to achieve them.

A good understanding of one’s environment goes a long way toward managing scholarships well. Institutions, public and private, must manage operations as efficiently as possible while also addressing expectations of many constituencies, like policymakers, private donors, students, faculty, and staff.  Budgetary woes and demographic shifts in the state of Washington continue to impact how responsive my institution can be in addressing our scholarship goals.

In times of diminishing state support, the challenges of maintaining quality academic and student-support programs often overshadow the importance of scholarship decisions.  The state’s economy not only affects funding decisions at the state and institutional levels, it directly affects individual students and families. Even though we have raised tuition, we have not always been able to raise aid along with it. Unfortunately, federal and state aid allocations aren’t keeping pace with the increased number of eligible students either, making it more difficult for students to fill the “gap” in the cost of attending school.

At my institution, scholarship administration must  become more efficient and intentional. Like many four-year public institutions, we engage in tuition discounting and fundraising to help address our scholarship goals. While we can’t possibly achieve all of our goals, we know that some decisions can carry more weight than others. As a result, mission clarity has become much more integral to our work.

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