The Most Important Seat at the FinAid Table: Student Centricity and Why it Matters


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 for staff and students. A six-part series, in part 1 I covered the 10 major points of scholarship friction and in part 2 discussed the importance of scholarship one-stop shops. Read on for part 3, all about the need for student- centricity.


Amazon founder Jeff Bezos frequently leaves one seat empty at the company’s most important meetings. He does this to remind his fellow executives and managers of the most important person in the room—the customer. In higher education, the most important person in the room is always the student. Guillermo Villanueva, Dean of Financial Aid & Student Success Programs at City College of San Francisco hit the nail on the head when he said, "I think if you want to build something from the ground up, you start with the students."  


Student-Centricity: A Benchmark for Success 

Student centricity puts the student at the heart of everything an institution does. Wayne Smutz, Dean at UC Los Angeles wrote, “Student-centricity is in the projection, it’s in the processes, and it’s in the commitment to constantly look at everything you do to make sure that it’s student-friendly.” And writings on the topic have continued to grow, check out this series by the evolution featuring more than 40 articles on the topic. 


Student Financial Success Is All About Student-Centricity  

For students to be successful academically and in their careers, they also need financial success. Student Financial Success technology is leveling the playing field by removing financial barriers and truly putting students first. For too long, students have been left behind when it comes to this key area. We’ve all seen students enrolling in schools that didn’t align with their academic skills, making this decision because a more suitable school was too costly. It’s known as "undermatching." We also see students so fearful of their pending student loan payments that they select a major based on its income ceiling rather than its fit, sacrificing passion for financial security. The most devastating result of not putting students first: the millions of students who leave school with debt but no degree to show for it 


Student-Centricity and Scholarships: More Important Than Ever 

Generational identity—the concept that one’s birth year leads to shared experiences that can create common identities for people—is complicated, and ever changing. Baby Boomers are often viewed in a different light than Millennials and Millennials are seen differently than Generation ZWhile many characteristics may differentiate them, they increasingly share two important ones. People of all ages are connected through the fact that they are—or were—students. And most of them carry significant student loan debtAll generations understand the pains of student debt. 


Student Debt bAge, in 2017 

“Since 2004, student loan balances across all age groups have increased on average by 302%. The most drastic percentage increase was seen by borrowers over 60 years of age, with a whopping 1,256% student loan balance increase—from $6.3 billion to $85.4 billion—in only 13 years.” Everyone is borrowing money to go to school and higher education is becoming essential for most jobs.  



Total Student Loans (billions) 

Under 30 











Tackling the student debt problem requires doing so in a way that meets the unique needs of all students, that puts each of the—and his or her unique situation—at the heart of the process 


All Generations Are Competing for the Same Jobs 

People of all ages are competing for the same jobs. Unlike previous decades where seniority ruled, a Gen Z student today can fill a position only a Baby Boomer could have once held. Thomas Friedman's international bestselling book The World is Flat was a metaphor (sorry flat-earthers) describing how globalization created a level playing field where geographic boundaries no longer limited opportunity but simultaneously increased competition. Today, we see that age no longer limits one’s job prospects. With the rise of online degrees, micro credentials, and bootcamps, a degree is no longer confined to brick and mortar campuses. This means that institutions must become student centric and evolve to fit the needs of different types of students, of all ages and from all backgrounds. 


According to Ellucian’s white-paper Credential Clout: How Higher Ed Can Prepare for an Evolving Job Marketthe principal reason students attend college today is to improve their career prospects. "The majority of students plan to pursue a degree or credential after their current educational programa trend that is especially true for older students." According to Friedman, everyone should be a life-long learner to compete in our ever-flattening world. big problem with all this lifelong learning: how does one pay for it? Often, the answer is scholarships. 


ScholarshipUniverse: 100% Student-Centric 

ScholarshipUniverse (SU), a key part of the CampusLogic Student Financial Success platform, is a prime example of technology that starts with the student in mind.  SU originated at the University of Arizona (UArizona), created to solve the significant challenges in scholarships faced by students and staff. 


Start with the Student Experience First 

ScholarshipUniverse gives students a mobile-friendly and personalized place to go to find vetted, relevant external scholarships as well as internal institutional funds to apply for. The development of SU began with the student experience. UArizona collected feedback early and often from students and after many iterative improvements the staff management side for internal scholarship processes were integrated. The approach was a huge success. By starting with the student experience first, it ensured that the end product met students' needs and became the one-stop shop for all scholarship opportunities with a 70% student user adoption rate. 70% adoption is phenomenal when you consider not every student needs additional financial support, but the overwhelming majority who do use SU. 


Student-Centricity Crosses Generations 

As competition to enroll students increases, institutions that drive student-centered financial success will be better positioned to attract, retain, and graduate students. And because all generations are students today, putting students first benefits us all; our children, our siblings, our parents, our grandparents and yes, flat earthers too. 


See the next post for our third scholarship management best practice: Embrace Technology 



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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