A previous post this year offered a couple of suggestions on how we can fix financial aid. If you missed that post, a quick summary:
- College costs too much;
- Most people don’t know how to pay for it;
- Financial aid forms are too lengthy;
- The reports describing what aid a student gets are too confusing;
- Everyone hates loans.
I was really hoping the two suggestions I made might generate some thoughtful discussion about how to make college more affordable, and lead us to a point where we were ready to take on changes to financial aid the way the profession is taking on changes in required testing. Instead, I got crickets.
Undeterred, I’m back with another approach—and this one even sounds like fun. I haven’t been to many conferences in the last few years, and what I’ve really missed is the conversations at the end of the day where most sentences begin with “Wouldn’t it be great if…?” Those conversations have led to all kinds of changes in the way I counsel students, and they inspire all of us to keep looking for ways to expand access and opportunity. Without these conversations, work can be a little less inspiring, especially when students who heard Yes from the dream school come in with the financial aid report, and remember why that was a dream school.
So how about this? What if we go to the people who run financial aid offices, and ask them how they would improve financial aid? This happens all the time in the business world; the way to improve the delivery of a service is to ask the people delivering the service.
Since we’re talking about serious money here, this needs to be something a little more casual than just a conversation over a couple of beers, so let’s put together some guidelines:
Financial aid folks, identify what you would change about the world of financial aid, and why. It can be one thing; it could be myriad things. I have a bias towards access, so I’d likely be more interested in the parts of financial aid that keep kids from coming to college, staying in college, or making the most in college.
Give me some data. Some of the best ideas are those that come from the gut, but in this case, those ideas relate to money, and that involves recordkeeping. Show me how this affects kids.
Tell me what you ‘d do to fix this problem, and why you think this would solve the problem. As is typically the case here, this needs to be the right mix of practical and blue sky, where we blow up enough of the current system without tossing out the parts that work. “Let’s start over” may sound exciting, but it isn’t a plan. I’m looking for something that’s partly a plan with wings, and partly a dream with legs.
Tell me how you know if you fixed the problem—what data points will change, what procedures will be updated, what students will worship the ground you walk on as a result of these changes?
Tell me what could go wrong—why it might not work, why it might work but just for your school, and what unintended consequences might arise. In some cases, the answer here might be “beats me’, but even that answer can be explained in detail. “There aren’t any” isn’t an answer—it just means you haven’t thought about it much.
What will you get if you send me this information and I like the idea? Well, my plan would be to pick the best three ideas, and give each of them $300,000—100 grand a year for three years—to implement the plan. You’ll need to include a budget to show what you’d do with the money—and using it for financial aid itself is OK—and you’ll need to track the money to make sure you can show what it actually went to. But show me you’ve got a plan that’s part pipe dream, and you may get the chance to make it come true.
Now. About the money.
I don’t exactly have a million dollars lying around, and something tells me there might not be a lot of foundations willing to give me the money if I go to them and simply say “How about if we try and fix financial aid?” I do think they might provide some funding for innovative ideas made by experienced financial aid professionals who work at the grass roots. That’s why we need to start with your proposals—if I go to them with real plans, they’re much mor likely to sign on. So you may get nothing, other than a chance to step back, re-picture the big picture, and think about your work in a different way. But you may get more.
If that’s of interest to you, I’m at collegeisyours.com
Let’s see where this goes.