Helping College Students Navigate Financial Aid: The Dos and Don’ts

 

tichavakundaToday’s blogger is Antar Tichavakunda, doctoral candidate at the University of Southern California and researcher in the Pullias Center for Higher Education. Read his full article, “Perceptions of Financial Aid: Black Students at a Predominantly White Institution,” in The Educational Forum. Part 1 of his blog series can be found here.

The majority of college students, in one way or another, will come in contact with their school’s financial aid office.

Students and their families first become acquainted with financial aid as seniors in high school applying to colleges—meaning it’s important for secondary school educators to be aware of the process students are negotiating. They fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and other documents to better understand how much college attendance will cost them.

Students will consider different types of loans, learn of their eligibility for grants or scholarships, and ultimately decide with their parents what school to attend and how they will fund attendance.

This is no simple task.

Researchers and policy makers cite the complexity of financial aid forms as an obstacle to college attendance.

But the financial aid process does not stop there.

Students who depend on financial aid keep up with deadlines, get tax documents from parents, and renew FAFSA on a yearly basis. As I explore in my article, the yearly financial aid process should not be taken for granted. While the focus of my paper is on Black students’ experiences and perceptions of financial aid at a predominantly White institution of higher education, a few takeaways apply to any student in higher education who depends on financial aid.

Here are some recommendations for high school counselors, financial aid officers, administrators, and anyone concerned with supporting students’ college experiences:

Do:

  • Encourage a proactive approach to financial aid—both for students and for the financial aid office staff. Students should be encouraged to ask questions, and the financial aid office should likewise reach out to students.
  • Encourage in-person interactions—students in my study suggested that going into the financial aid office, in person, was the most efficient mode of communication.
  • Encourage an understanding of web resources—students found the user-friendly, in-depth nature of the school’s financial aid website valuable in their experience with financial aid.

Don’t:

  • Assume financial aid literacy as a given—learning about financial aid is an ongoing process for many students, and all students, particularly those who may be the first in their families to attend college, may have knowledge gaps.
  • Assume that financial aid is only for parents—some students, even though they are still teenagers, are the ones entrusted with filling out their financial aid forms and collecting tax documents from their parents.
  • Assume that students of the same race have similar backgrounds—regardless of race, students have different experiences and upbringings. Even students of similar socioeconomic backgrounds might display different levels of financial aid acumen.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Antar Tichavakunda’s article with the education community for free through February 28, 2017.

Financial Aid in College: What Does Race Have to Do With It?

tichavakundaToday’s blogger is Antar Tichavakunda, doctoral candidate at the University of Southern California and researcher in the Pullias Center for Higher Education. Read his full article, “Perceptions of Financial Aid: Black Students at a Predominantly White Institution,” in The Educational Forum.

The scholarly work examining the complexities of Black students’ experiences at predominantly White institutions (PWIs) is expansive, but no prior research has studied these students’ interpretations of financial aid. The purpose of my study recently published in The Educational Forum was to address this research gap.

Why look at race and financial aid?

Student perceptions of financial aid are informed by more than socioeconomic status. The way Black students perceive financial aid may be affected by the campus climate of the schools they attend. Some scholars have argued that PWIs cater to White students and groups that assimilate with the majority population.

At a school where the Black student population is the small minority, their interactions and experiences with support services, such as financial aid, may be distinct from those of racial groups that make up the largest proportions of the student population. Financial aid policies may be well suited for the majority of the student population; with research, officials can determine whether these same policies work for smaller minority groups as well.

Based on the findings of my study, I suggest that the complexity of financial aid forms and a lack of outreach from the financial aid office may contribute to a stressful financial aid experience for many Black students relying on aid.

Understanding financial aid requires more than identifying the difference between a grant and a loan. Navigating financial aid as a college student requires more than turning in specific forms before certain dates. Ensuring that students correctly fill out their financial aid forms their first year may not be enough. Students busy with studying, socializing, and organizational involvement might benefit from more checking in from financial aid offices.

My research indicates that we can learn how to better support and reach Black students at PWIs so that they might make the best decisions about financial aid with less stress.

In the second part of this blog series I will highlight the “Dos and Don’ts” of supporting all college students in their interactions with financial aid.

KDP is proud to partner with Routledge to share Antar Tichavakunda’s article with the education community for free through February 28, 2017.