Internal and external scholarship dollars play a crucial role in helping students close funding gaps—but the scholarship journey has historically been complicated and convoluted for students to navigate. It hasn’t been an easy path for financial aid and scholarship office staff either, who are often doing their best to manage millions of dollars in funding through spreadsheets and other manual approaches. With 10+ years of experience in the scholarship space, ranging from 2006 to 2018, I’m passionate about how we as an industry can make everything easier. In this blog post, the first of a six-part series, I dig into 10 major scholarship challenges. Future parts of the series will share best practices for resolving the challenges.
In the 1992 film, “A League of Their Own,” Tom Hanks managed one of the first professional female baseball teams. We all know his famous line from the movie: “There's no crying in baseball!” Well, there's crying in scholarships and financial aid. Students, parents, colleagues, and perhaps you reading this have shed some tears—whether from frustration, despair, or (and this may be too far-fetched) joy—as you’ve tried to find relevant, vetted scholarships to help you offset the costs of higher education and pursue your dreams.
Scholarship Friction Makes the Top 3
If you’ve struggled, you’re not alone: More than three million students drop out of higher education each year due to finances. That’s a lot of sad faces. The cause—friction. Tyton Partners report “Finding a Fit: The Evolution of Student-Centered Financial Aid,” was spurred by a national research study into friction. With funding support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and in collaboration with AACRAO, NACAC, and NASFAA to better understand the issues in the U.S. higher education financial aid system and begin to develop some potential solutions.
The focus of this work was to identify, from both a student and an administrator perspective, the issues that are causing friction and challenges within the current financial aid process—specifically, the barriers created by the existing system and the technology currently being used. The report identified three major causes of friction:
1. Inefficient Financial Aid Processing Systems
a. Think about the cumbersome verification process students get lost in
2. Poor Student Communications
b. Students don’t know what’s needed from them, when, why or how to submit it.
3. Poor Organization of Scholarships
c. Students can’t easily find what they’re looking for, and the student experience is horrible
Under the Surface of Scholarship Friction
Poor organization of scholarships is causing friction for students and administrators alike. Here are 10 major points of friction that make the scholarship ecosystem feel like a league of its own.
1. Disjointed Searching—Students manually search through countless irrelevant results, and scholarship search fatigue can set in fast
2. Overwhelming Number of Options—Thousands of disparate, questionable resources to sort through.
3. Lengthy Applications—Students are asked to provide the same information over and over and over, along with repeatedly answering numerous eligibility qualifiers.
4. Minimal Transparency—Students don’t know the number of opportunities or dollars being applied for on applications.
5. Tedious Tracking—With disparate application sites, manual management of scholarships, applications, documents, and statuses gets time consuming.
6. Disconnected from Student Information System—Administrators have to juggle multiple systems to verify student data.
7. Manual Communication—Existing technology is highly limited in terms of automating personalized communications; think spreadsheets, mail merges, snail mail, sending and resending.
8. Low Fund Utilization—Many internal scholarship opportunities go unused, as administrators struggle to connect the right students to the right funds.
9. Data Security & Compliance—Inability to parse and protect student data from misuse and bias in review committees.
10. Limited Visibility and Reporting—It takes enormous effort to attract and engage applicants and identify insights.
Scholarship Friction Can Be Fixed
Disjointed, overwhelming, tedious, disconnected, limited… no wonder there’s crying in scholarships. The good news is that these challenges can all be overcome with our five best practices.