What Excites Me About the State of Financial Aid

As the holiday season swings into full gear, it’s a great time of year to think about what matters most to us. How can we better nurture the spirit of family and community in our own lives and the lives of those close to us? Think about how our intentions and our actions, big and small, make the world a better place? And think about the people and events in our lives that make us very grateful to be sharing our journey with others?

Given the nature of my life’s work, I cannot help but think about these things in the context of what it means to be an impactful part of the financial aid community in independent schools. So, here are four things that excite me about the state of financial aid in 2016:

1. You are spending more time making aid decisions. In the 2010 State of Financial Aid survey conducted by SSS, respondents reported spending an average of 25 percent of their time on financial aid duties. In the 2016 update of the 2010 survey, this commitment moved up to 29 percent. This is both good and necessary. As financial aid demand grows and the profile of applicants evolves, the volume and complexity of applications simply require more time to make the best decision. The school’s investment and the family’s stake in the outcomes are both too great to give your decisions short shrift due to limited time. My advice? Take your time. Get your decisions right.

2. You are meeting a growing percentage of financial need. In 2010, respondents said they met, on average, 69 percent of demonstrated need for financial aid applicants. In 2016, this figure rose to 77 percent. Since “gapping” an aid award is particularly tough for families as they occupy the lower rungs of the income ladder, it’s important we continue this movement towards 100 percent of need. In doing so, we’ll have greater impact on the families that need the help the most. Continue to fight for financial aid funding that eliminates gapping.  

3. You are reaching a larger proportion of enrolled students. The 2016-17 NAIS DASL survey shows that the median percentage of enrolled students receiving financial aid in day schools was 21.8 percent, up from 14.1 percent in 1996-97 (and growing from 31.9 percent to 39.9 percent for boarding-day schools since 1996-97). This trend reflects the willingness and ability of schools to reach more families as income growth lagged through sluggish economic times. This commitment keeps the independent school choice a real one for many who might otherwise have fallen through the affordability cracks over the years. Keep supporting those cries for help.

4. You really care about people. With 82 percent of financial aid professionals telling us that “compassion” is the emotion most-associated with financial aid work, I’m excited that, ultimately, our collective capacity to understand and sympathize with families and students drives our desire to help as much as we possibly can.  The fact that 81 percent of you stated you feel a strong sense of impact on families (even more so than the perceived impact on schools) means that kids and their potential are at the forefront of financial aid decision making. That’s just as it should be. Stay centered in your desire to make a difference.

Understanding these realities gives me real optimism about the work you do every day. You’re spending your most precious capital (time, dollars, and emotional energy) on widening the tent as much as possible. Let’s remain compassionate and work with clear intention throughout this financial aid season, as full of successes and frustrations as it will be. Let’s hold onto the best of what we feel during holiday time to make access and affordability a reality for all families, impacting their lives and the lives of our schools too. I’m excited to help you work your magic yet again this year!