Financial Assistance as an Enrollment Management Tool

January 20, 2016 Clayton Smith
Financial Assistance as an Enrollment Management Tool

SSATB is pleased to partner with the University of Southern California's Rossier School of Education's Center for Enrollment Research, Policy and Practice (CERPP) to provide scholarships to and guidance for independent school enrollment management professionals to enroll in the online Leadership in Enrollment Management Certificate program.

When I started working in independent schools over a decade ago, I remember thinking that I had a lot to learn. I was a teacher at the time, but quickly learned one of the meanings of “need blind financial aid.”

A student was in tears after failing a test. He told me it was one of the worst days of his life and he wondered if it would affect his financial aid gift from the school. I quickly told the student that as far as I knew, that would likely not happen, and also told him I had no idea he was on financial aid. This experience, along with many others, was the beginning of what has been a rewarding and educational experience for me in the independent school world.

I moved into the world of admission and enrollment management three years ago and have not looked back. I find myself asking more questions than ever, and that has led me to participate in the USC/CERPP Leadership in Enrollment Management Certificate program. Our most recent topic, financial aid, is a subject that has people at all levels of education asking a plethora of questions.

Don Saleh, the former director of enrollment management at Syracuse University, talks about financial aid as a convergence of different aspects of our work as admission and enrollment professionals: meeting goals, building a strong class, and thinking about net tuition revenue.

Meeting goals
Managing enrollment at St. Stephen´s is a process that starts with our mission, so we know that the process first involves seeking out students who are interested in ¨rigorous academic preparation, stimulating physical activities and rich opportunities in the fine arts.¨

  • Each September we begin the process of attracting and recruiting students who will shape a class. The classes we hope to build are shaped by our mission. We are deliberate in our conversations with students and parents about the types of people who come to St. Stephen´s. We emphasize the importance of academics and also of diversity (diverse interests, as well as diverse cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds). These conversations and the management of the enrollment process help us shape classes of students who ultimately are genuinely happy with the choice they made in coming to St. Stephen´s.
  • Goal setting often starts by analyzing data that help us target certain areas. It is important to be aware of changes in the city’s demography so that we know not just where students are coming from, but also the direction of geographic and financial growth. Once we are aware of these data, we begin a process of recruiting in areas in which our school may not be seen as a viable option due to cost. By appropriately marketing in these areas, we are better able to diversify our student population both geographically and socioeconomically.

Building a strong class
Part of building a strong class involves knowing the families and students we are working with in order to assure high retention. The more transparent families are when speaking with us (and vice versa), the better chance their student will have success at a particular institution.

  • At St. Stephen´s, we ask that families reapply each year for their financial aid awards. This helps us better understand what economic changes the family may have experienced, so that we may help bridge the financial aid gap and bolster retention.
  • The priorities we set as an institution often revolve around making our schools more accessible to a broader range of families. This helps us as we begin to build classes that take advantage of the wonderful programs we are able to offer.

Net Tuition Revenue
All admission offices are well aware of the importance of building the right class, but we are also keenly aware of the fact that we are responsible for about 80% of the revenue needed to operate our schools. As such, not only do we understand the importance of managing full pay families, but we also spend time allocating financial aid dollars to families who help us mold a strong and diverse class; economic, geographic, and cultural diversity all come into play when making these important decisions.

When considering the ways different institutions manage financial aid, it is important to keep in mind that these dollars help bridge a gap. They allow us to shape mission-consistent classes that represent a broader group of students. In this way, we use financial aid as an enrollment management tool.

When families visit St. Stephen´s, one of their takeaways is that people seem happy here. This happiness is a direct reflection of the community of people who spend time together day in and day out. When we shape a class, we understand that the education that survives may be closely correlated with the connections we make with diverse groups of students before they enter the school. The daily interactions among these mission appropriate students are the experiences that will shape their time at St. Stephen´s; an experience that began in the office of admission.

About the Author

Clayton Smith joined the admission team at St. Stephen's in the summer of 2013. Prior to his work in admission, Clayton taught middle school Spanish. While working at St. Stephen's, Clayton received his Masters in Spanish Literature from Middlebury College. Currently Clayton serves as associate director of admission and head varsity golf coach. Clayton, his wife Gaby, and their airedale terrier, Smart, live near downtown Austin.

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