Good-Bye Confusion: Students Are Looking for Transparency in Scholarship Searches

The next time you fly Southwest Airlines®, look at the napkins during the inflight service. You will see Tic Tac Toe  or a Word Search printed on them accompanied by short slogans like, “We don’t play games with your fares. Just on our napkins.” Or, “Hidden words are more fun than hidden fees.” Southwest knows transparency (or “Transfarency” as they call it) is a universal consumer desire—but not every company, industry, or process is transparent. This is true for higher education as well. 

Your Consumers Need Transparency 

Transparency helps students make the right decisions, both financially and for their career paths. Imagine walking into the grocery store and seeing nothing but cans and boxes with all the labels removed. It would be pretty tough to fill your cart with what you need for the week. Chicken noodle Cheerios™, anyone? 

Now pretend you’re a student searching through online lists of scholarship opportunities, not having any idea which ones might be a match for you. Think about applying over and over for scholarships you may or may not qualify for—and really have no way of getting more information about them. It would be exhausting and frustrating (scholarship search fatigue is a very real thing). This opaque process is causing many students to give up on the scholarship search process altogether and opt for more debt rather than continue their searches. Transparency in processes can change all that, and it can offer students a clear path to success. 

The Importance of Transparency in Higher Education 

Being a student today is more complicated than simply doing well in class. Scholarship essays are full of stories about food insecurity, sleeping in the car because there isn’t enough gas money to commute, and caring for elderly parents, grandparents, or siblings because there is no one else who can help. For some, being a student requires extraordinary sacrifice. Yet, students still struggle to understand what their education will cost, how they will be able to pay for it, and if it will pay off in the future. Higher education is likely one of the biggest expenses an individual will pay for, and it is critical students understand exactly what it will cost and how they will pay for it. Students are consumers who are trying to make informed choices in an industry that should be a model of transparency, not its antithesis. 

Transparency Redefined 

Meriam-Webster® defines “transparent” as 1) readily understood and 2) characterized by visibility or accessibility of information especially concerning business practices.  

With definitions like that, it seems everyone should be striving for transparency—so why is it so often missing? There are two reasons: 

1. Fear 

There is real fear that revealing too much information will create problems rather than solve them. No one wants to open Pandora’s box, so rather than scare people with an exaggerated concept of transparency, let’s talk about what transparency is not. Transparency does not necessarily mean that every single detail needs to be revealed. In fact, a complete information dump can be overwhelming, and honestly, it’s more than your students need (or want) to know. You’re not aiming for an open book; your goal is to drive success by sharing valuable information that will guide students to make informed decisions.  

2. Putting it Into Practice

Many institutions don’t have transparent processes because they don’t know what it looks like to put them into practice. Creating principles around the idea of transparency is the easy part; actually applying them to unique situations is where it becomes more difficult. Fortunately, you’re not all on your own when it comes to figuring out what transparency looks like for your institution. CampusLogic has already proven that a more transparent scholarship process is possible. With seamless integration and intuitive technology, you can put transparency into practice—and your students will love you for the opportunities you make available to them.   

The Transparency Spectrum 

All scholarship processes are not created equally. Students will have different experiences based on the program or school they are in—and things may even vary within the same institution, depending upon how decentralized the organization is. Cumbersome and confusing scholarship processes create barriers to student access, making it even more important to increase transparency to ensure students are matched with the best opportunities to help them successfully complete their higher education paths. Here’s an easy way to evaluate how transparent your process is for students: 

Opaque – Students have the least amount of information and incentive to act or make informed decisions. 

Translucent – Students have more information, but there is a lot of room for improvement.  

Transparent – Students have the information they need in order to act and make informed decisions with their time and effort. 

Five Keys to Scholarship Transparency 

How does your school’s scholarship process rank? Ideally, you’ll fall into the “Transparent” category, but if you don’t, there are some easy ways to get your institution in tip-top shape by focusing on streamlining scholarship management. Take a look at the 5 Keys to Scholarship Transparency on this handout created by CampusLogic and rank your institution according to the “Transparent,” “Translucent,” or “Opaque” guidelines. 

Scholarships Should Encourage, Not Discourage 

Applying for scholarships is similar to applying for jobs. It is discouraging when job applicants don’t know if their resume has been reviewed—or even received—by the company they applied to. It’s the same for students who are waiting for scholarship decisions. While rejection might seem like the worst possible outcome, it can be much worse to put in all the effort to search for scholarships, complete the requirements, wait for what seems like an interminable amount of time—and then ultimately get no news about your application. Students understand that scholarship opportunities are highly competitive, and they aren’t going to rush the door to the financial aid office when the final decision doesn’t go their way. You’ll keep them much happier and earn their trust with open communication and transparency.  

CampusLogic delivers modern scholarship technology like ScholarshipUniverse to help you check all the transparency boxes for your students. But if you are going to improve your process on your own, a good place to start is with more transparent communication. Students deserve it

Download 5 Keys to Scholarship Transparency Rating Tool >



About the Author

Ken Downs, Product Evangelist

Evangelizing how technology and best practices can remove friction for students, schools, and organizations in the scholarship and financial aid space, Downs is CampusLogic’s Product Evangelist. He was instrumental in leading the development of the University of Arizona’s national award-winning ScholarshipUniverse product, now part of CampusLogic’s platform. A longstanding member of the National Scholarship Provider’s Association, Downs has given workshops titled: Big Data and the Coming Scholarship Sea Change, Scholarship Hacking, and the Scholarship Universe Story.

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