An Insider’s Challenge Navigating Higher Ed’s Financial Aid Gauntlet

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Dr. Rebecca Vidra, Senior Lecturer at Duke University joins the podcast to discuss her personal experience and challenges navigating higher ed’s financial aid gauntlet with her own daughter, and how all of her “insider” knowledge didn’t leave her or her daughter any less confused.

You're listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education, the best professional development podcast for higher education leaders looking to grow enrollment at their college or university. Whether you're looking for fresh enrollment growth techniques and strategies or tools and resources, you've come to the right place. Let's get into the show. Welcome back to enrollment growth university, a proud member of the connect e D U podcast network. I'm Eric Olsen with Helix Education and we're here today with Dr Rebecca Vidra, senior lecturer at Duke University. Rebecca, welcome to the show. Thanks so much for having me. Really excited to have you and talk with you today about your personal experience and challenges navigating higher eds financial aid gauntlet for your daughter. But before we dig in, can you give the listeners a little background on your role at the Nicholas School of the environment at Duke University? Sure I I've been at the Nicholas School for eleven years as a lecturer and...

...then senior lecturer, and I teach a range of courses. I teach the large intro to environmental science course many first year students take. I teach graduate courses and restoration, ecology and environmental ethics and I most recently lad the Duke Environmental Leadership Program which is a graduate program from mid career professionals. I love that background. That shows your depth at an institution, which is particularly interesting giving this concept of do we have enough insider knowledge to help our students navigate their college process? Well, so, Rebecca, let's dig into it. Your daughter is a high school senior. She's applying to colleges. You're an insider, you work at a university. The admissions process must have been a breeze for you both. Right. Yeah, right, not exactly. It was a slog and I was so excited for her to go through the process. So it's a real surprise that that it was so difficult. Yeah,...

...what surprised you the most about the complexity, maybe particularly of the financial aid process? Well, I knew that we needed to fill out the FACTSA it's very obvious that that's that's the thing you do, and it's a really fun online form. I love filling out forms, kind of like filling out a ten forty. You know, it's a very clear form. You know, and and pretty quickly it spits back out your expected family contribution. The E F C Um. So I found that really straightforward and you know, part of going through that process is that you list all the institutions that the student is applying to. Each institution has a code. You just put in the codes and magically your facts as zoom over to their admissions offices. So that was very easy and straightforward and then I thought we were done and we were not done. There were a couple of surprises. One was that some of the college is that she applied to requested or required an additional form called the...

CSS profile, which stands for the College Scholarship Service Profile, and you find that, interestingly enough, at the College Board website, the same college board that administers standardized tests. So how, I don't know how you would know that that organization also has a role to play in financial aid. And unfortunately we actually missed the deadline for one of the schools that she applied to early to fill out the CSS profile. But you know, I quickly filled out that form. That process also costs money. So for the facts that you can submit the results to a certain number of colleges for free, but the CSS profile has a charge for each of the schools that you that you send it to in my daughter's case, it was only the private schools that we're asking for the CSS profile and the facts that all the other schools just asked for the FACTA. So that was the first surprise around financial aid, and...

...then after we got through the forms, there were additional surprises. I mean, I was just very naive about about this. I I imagined that there would be student loans available to my daughter to cover the costs of her education and I quickly realized that, well, she may be eligible for student loans to cover part of the costs, we were still going to have to come up with that expected family contribution, that there were not federal loans at least available to us to cover that, so that we were going to have to and this, you know, maybe too much information, but we did not have the money to you know, in a college savings account, which I think you're supposed to have actually if you're a good parents. We did not have that money. So, you know. So that was another surprise that we were going to have to come up with with that money somewhere and that, you know, this wasn't going to be an education we could finance through through at least federal student loans on her part. I think missing deadlines in general just feels so scary and you feel bad. What were you hopeful that...

...these institutions she was applying to would have been a little bit more communicative or even handhold the about these deadlines that she needed to think about? Absolutely, absolutely, and you know, I'll tell you a quick story. One of the first schools that my daughter applied to was an in state school in North Carolina and she applied early and she got in and the first week of January she got her acceptance letter and her financial aid letter soon after and I was surprised that there was nothing on her financial aid letter. So so I did a little digging and it turned out that there was a deadline for scholarships and it was November. November and somebody's senior year of high school is very early to be applying for these scholarships. I reached out to the financial aid office and was told that those scholarships are reserved for the students who know they want to go to that school and for whom that school is their first choice.

So they intentionally set the scholarship deadline early, so that that was surprising and frustrating and given that most of these colleges and universities use the common APP which is the centralized location for students to submit their applications through, I don't know why the information about Financial Laden scholarships isn't clearer, given that they are using this this system. It was. It was quite surprising. Yeah, and so if you, as a higher read insider, were taken back slightly embarrassed that you were having these challenges navigating it. What about your daughter? How did she feel about the process? What was her experience or her takeaways? Well, you know, while I thought this was going to be a really fun process of, you know, finding, exploring schools and going on visits, it really was quite stressful for her as anxiety producing, and part of that is her personality and part of it is that, you know, she goes to a school where her peers are applying to fifteen or twenty schools.

That's ridiculous. And while there's some help for navigating the in state, you know, public university application process, there's really no other help at her school for this process. So I think, you know, she found it really pretty anxiety provoking. And then, as we started to miss deadline, you know, it started just to feel a little unsettling. The majority of her friends actually applied early decision or early action. So by January most of her friends already knew where they were going and lily did not, and so that that was an additional part of it. How long it took. Money was always in the picture of and in our conversations as we talked about her choices. Both her dad and I have advanced degrees. We've done a lot of time and higher education. We're both professors. We know about the you know how expensive an undergraduate degree is and we wanted her to think more broadly about her educational experience. You know that an Undergrad degree, you know, may...

...be a stepping stone and there may be more graduate school in her future Um and that she should maybe planned for that. So so, you know, I think it just ended up, the process just ended up feeling overwhelming that she didn't have the information that other people had and that some of these schools didn't really even, you know, weren't really eve been interested in her, given the way that that they communicated with her or that they didn't communicate with her. That that was also an interesting takeaway. And so, you know, there were a couple of schools that she got into and that she was considering that I thought did a really nice job of communicating in clear ways to both her and to us as her parents, and I wonder why more schools don't do that. One was the college of Charleston. Their communications, you know, the email communications that I received were positive, they were informative. They always included an invitation to speak with somebody in admissions or in an academic...

...department or in some other kind of program and I and we're very clear about deadlines. The University of California at Santa Barbara, which was my daughter's first choice, actually I saved their communications because I actually found them entertaining. There was always a note to like this email is not about the admissions decision for your child, you know, but here's here's what's coming next, and so you know, it got a little communication, a little clear communication about next steps goes a really long way, especially for somebody like my daughter, who was very anxious about it, or for somebody who doesn't have support from their parents or from their school. Yeah, Rebecca, you mentioned this, but but if if you and your husband, you know a long tenured director level at a selective institution. You were confused by the enrollment process. What chance do the rest of our students have, who are perhaps navigating the Solo? What shot do our first generation students have of navigating the enrollment and fund fancially...

...process really well, based on what your experience was this past year? Yeah, it's pretty depressing actually. You know, I do think, you know, for many of our institutions there is support, either at the institution or through organizations like the College of advising core, to really to support first generation students. Certainly a lot more needs to be done. What I'm increasingly interested in is sort of the gap, you know, these students who are not first generation students but who don't have the insider knowledge. You know, how how do they find out what the heck it is they're supposed to do? And, you know, even with parents who are you know, it turns out being a professor at an institution really teaches you nothing about how your students actually got there and how their families are paying for it. So that was an interesting and interesting lesson in our case. No, it is not unusual for students at my daughter's high school to have paid college counselors I sort of...

...thought that was just something for people who had a lot of money or didn't have a lot of time to help their kids, and I was I was shocked by how many students were using those resources, which leads me to ask, you know, what do we need to change so that all students, regardless of their current financial circumstances, have access to the basic information for how to navigate this? And you know, sure the common APP is helpful in some ways, but there is there are things that are going to fall through the cracks, really important things like scholarship availability, financial aid processes. You know, we're not there yet in terms of having information available to all students who would like it. Yeah, this may be leading the witness here with kind of my my my final takeaway ask for you, but it's a really interesting secret shopper user experience you went through, except you weren't a secret shopper, you were a real one and you saw firsthand where the friction lies. So maybe that is our our is our starting point of recommendation for folks listening at institutions who want to understand what their process really looks and feels like.

Believe us with anything else. Any next steps advice for institutions. They need to get past their own burden of knowledge. They want to make sure that our enrollment financially processes are more navigable for our students and our first generation students. How should they think about that challenge? Any recommendations for where they should start? Well, I do not think that my daughter is unusual in not having an addiction to her email. I'm addicted to my email, but she is not right and so much important information went to her email accounts and she did apply to nine schools. So keeping that straight was, you know, challenging for her. So my strong recommendation is to include the parents, guardians, you know, some other person on these communications. You know, sure, my daughter was applying to schools, but really our family was applying to these schools. I mean we were thinking about the best fit for her,...

...you know, the programs available to support her academic success and the cost right. So that so we all have a steak. And when all of the communications goes to a seventeen year old high school senior with a whole lot going on, you know, it is no wonder that things fall through the craft and to make those communications, you know, tailored to you deadlines. I think that's a really important aspect of it. But next steps, what we can expect, those kinds of things. It also helps, you know, it's part of the invitation that an institution is extending to your son or daughter, right so that if you get the email that congratulates you, that you're that your son or daughter got in, you know there there, there is some value to that. I really believe that, and so that that's my my biggest takeaway and my my second sort of question would be, you know, how can we make these processes more transparent at sort of a more global...

...level? You know, what I understood at the beginning was that the FAFTSA is what I needed to do and all I needed to do fill that out and it would be fine. That was not so. How do we educate parents, teachers, college counselors, guidance counselors on the other things that do need to happen? You know, it is an ecosystem of people that are involved in any student's admissions journey, whether their first gen or not, and so I think caring for that ecosystem is really important. Rebecca, thank you so much for your time today. What's the best place for listeners to reach out if they have any follow up questions. I'm happy to entertain emails because, as I mentioned, I'm addicted to night. My email is just Vidra, my last name V I D R A at Duke Dot e Du Awesome, Rebecca, thanks so much for joining us today. Thank you. Attracting today's new post traditional learners means adopting new enrollment strategies. Keelix educations data driven, enterprise wide approach to enrollment growth is uniquely helping colleges and universities thrive in...

...this new education landscape, and Helix has just published the second edition of their enrollment growth playbook with brand new content on how institutions can solve today's most pressing enrollment growth challenges. Download it today for free at Helix Education Dot Com. Slash playbook. You've been listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show on Itunes or your favorite podcast player. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time,.

In-Stream Audio Search

NEW

Search across all episodes within this podcast

Episodes (264)