How to Create an Institutional Financial Aid Program


If your college or university currently does not offer institutional financial aid, or tuition assistance that comes directly from your own budget, you might be wondering how to change your policy. While there’s no one-stop shop for putting an institutional aid plan in place, you can take several steps to encourage the formation of a plan and help it succeed.

Find Funding

Although your institution receives funding  from state and federal governments for financial aid, these are not appropriate financial sources to put toward institutional aid. However, as detailed in a post by the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges’ Trusteeship Magazine, institutions of higher learning have many sources of funding for campus-based financial aid. These include tuition, fees, endowment funds and the operating budget.

Talk with decision-makers about which of these revenue sources (or more than one) could supply your institutional aid. Also be aware that discounting tuition too severely in hopes of getting students in the door can risk the long-term financial health of your institution, so you must balance good intentions with financial capability.

Set Metrics

Once your institutional financial aid plan is in place, you’ll need to determine who is eligible and who is not. Even if the awards process involves some selection by hand, you’ll need a baseline for who qualifies. Before embarking on this discussion with CEOs, CFOs, Board of Trustees members and others, it might be helpful to compare what other institutions do. Check out a tool called Looking Under the Hood Project Institutional Aid Metrics Benchmarking Tool. This tool allows you to compare your institutional grant aid metrics  with the national average or self-selected peer institutions from among more than 30 student aid metrics for NACUBO and AGB member institutions.

This is also where you have to answer some tough questions about your school’s policies. For instance, undocumented students are barred from federal and most state aid, and most colleges and universities do not grant them institutional aid. However, your school can define it’s own policies, so talk to the other decision-makers about how you plan to advise undocumented students before deciding.

Get Systematic

No matter how excellent your financial plan or how appropriate your metrics, it is still crucial to keep track of all the extra applicant and administrative data created by your new institutional aid process. If you fail to, chances are you will quickly get mired in swamps of paperwork that drain resources, cause confusion and possibly have even greater repercussions, such as missed deadlines or overlooked students. That’s no good.

Instead, use a digital system to reduce or eliminate free-floating documents and minimize the amount of time administrators and staff must spend chasing paper. Doing so will not only ensure that you’re able to keep track of information, it will free up your workers for other, more important tasks.

Creating an institutional financial aid plan from scratch isn’t impossible. If you’re a financial aid director who would like to put a plan in place, you might think through these steps yourself before presenting a plan to decision-makers. That way you can give the plan the best chance of success right out of the gate.

This blog was written in response to the questions, “”My school is thinking about creating some form(s) of Institutional Student Financial Aid?  How should the Financial Aid Director go about helping to create such aid?  How should he or she administer it?” If you would like to submit a question to be answered in a future blog post, email


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