Envisioning Your Financial Aid Future

In my everlasting quest to be a thoroughly certifiable ‘financial aid geek,’ I subscribe to a daily Google alert on the topic “financial aid.” This means every day, I get a list of stories curated from the internet that feature financial aid news, information, or careers. Most of the time, the stories are about financial aid happenings in higher education which can often foretell trends or issues that independent school financial aid professionals will (or already) face. In the digest a few days ago, there were a couple of stories educating parents on how to compare financial aid offers and an announcement of a top basketball recruit who signed a financial aid agreement with the University of Missouri. But many of the headlines were not so helpful or harmless. Several, like the ones below, had me shaking my head (or “smh,” for those texting/tweeting experts):

  • Applying for College Financial Aid Just Got a Lot More Complicated
  • US Budget Proposal Could Cut Financial Aid
  • Faculty Senate Presents Financial Aid Revisions
  • Fund State Need Grant, the Backbone of College Financial Aid
  • State’s College Students Face Financial Aid Crunch

Each of these stories told of ways that federal, state, or college level bureaucrats make decisions that make it more difficult for students and families to find or apply for the financial aid help they need. I thought, “These are not good ideas for making higher education more reachable for people who need it most.”

A couple of days after reading that digest, I attended a two-day design thinking workshop to re-imagine what a school could do to turn around its enrollment decline (and ensuing financial challenges) of the past several years. One of the brainstorming exercises my group engaged was called “The Worst Idea.” In this process, you identify one to three key problems to solve and for each one, come up with as many of the worst ideas you can imagine to solve that problem. From the group’s collective list, each person picks one or two he or she finds to be the absolute worst, and then imagine what the opposite of that worst idea could look like – in essence, turning a bad idea into a good one.

So, if the five headlines above seem to be bad ideas for solving the access and affordability problem, what would the opposite of those look like? How might taking the opposite of those ideas form the baseline for a set of strategies or goals for continuous improvement in financial aid outcomes?

Imagine that you could determine what set of headlines in a future Google alert on “financial aid” would make us smile as financial aid professionals, nodding our heads instead of shaking them. What would the opposite of the worst ideas look like? Here are five I’d like to see that would make me smile:

  1. Feds Eliminate Student Loan Program, Replace It with Guaranteed Need-Based Aid
  2. EE Ford and Gates Foundation Collaborate to Fund Low-Income Student Access to Independent Schools
  3. For First Time, 100% of Independent Schools Report Meeting 100% of Demonstrated Need for All Students
  4. No Child Left Behind: Need-Aware Admission A Ghost of Bygone Era
  5. Former Aid Recipient Donates $40 Million to Alma Mater to Endow Need-Based Aid

Try this exercise with your financial aid committee or leadership team:

  • Think about the financial aid realities, successes, and challenges you’re facing as you wrap up this year’s enrollment season.
  • Brainstorm a set of headlines you see as future reflections of what solving your key one or two challenges would look like.
  • As a team, pick three to five of the best headlines and design together what it would take to make those headlines come true in your financial aid future.

Use the comments section below and share what would be your “best headlines” for a Google alerts digest. Let’s build a strong list and illustrate what our collective vision of the best financial aid future looks like and continue to work on creating it together.