Let’s make a deal. Now that financial aid packages are out the door, appeal season has begun. Families have become conditioned to ask for more aid, fueled by a sense that there might be room to negotiate, as if selecting a college is like buying a car. Ideally, your institution’s awarding policies are designed so there is confidence that enrollment goals will be met, and no increase in gift aid is required for appeals that do not fall under the special circumstance/professional judgment umbrella. However, since most of the enrollment deposits won’t start arriving until about a week before May 1, there can be a temptation to negotiate, particularly if there is a smaller admit pool, awards have been reduced from the previous year, or early deposits are trickling in at a slower rate.
Some things to consider in responding to appeals:
- Avoid bidding wars. Institutions have different criteria for awarding need-based and merit-based aid, and a competing offer is often not a fair comparison. In fact, because there is no standardized format for award letters, families may be comparing the bottom line without reviewing the types of aid offered. Your institution’s aid package may actually be more favorable – explaining this is time well spent.
- Students that submit appeals are usually more likely to enroll that those who do not, regardless of the response. Increasing gift aid may serve only to reduce net tuition revenue without affecting enrollments.
- Have a clear policy, whether you do or do not negotiate. For example, if you do decide to “negotiate” will you only offer additional funds to students with unmet need, or a quality profile above a certain level? Will you have a cap on the maximum amount of additional aid you would offer? What is the process for families to request a review? The review process should be well understood by staff and families to avoid confusion and to manage expectations.
- Provide a response (preferable written). Families deserve a timely answer, and this offers another opportunity to present information about financing, affordability and return on investment. The initial response may need to be something like, “We have received your appeal. We will be reviewing all appeals in the first week of April and will be in touch then.” That would buy some time for an institution to know more about how deposits are coming in before having to make final decisions about how to handle appeals.
- Track and analyze data on appeals! Information about the number of appeals, yields, expenditures, etc. from year to year will help make your aid policies more effective. Don’t forget to track yields on those students who did not receive additional funding as well as those who did.
Managing appeals can be time-consuming and frustrating, especially if you’re wearing a plaid polyester sport coat à la Monty Hall. Don’t be afraid to say, “No” (politely, of course), and make sure staff are trained to respond professionally. For example, saying “no” may actually be talking about financing options, the monthly payment plan, etc. as well as the value and benefits of attending.
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About the author: Enrollment Management Consultant Jennifer Wick joined the Scannell & Kurz team in May 2011. She manages the Financial Aid Strategy Tool (FAST) and provides consulting on a wide range of enrollment management topics from admissions to retention.
Jennifer comes to S&K from Clarkson University where she served for nine years as Director of New Student Financial Assistance. Her experience encompasses both financial aid and admissions responsibilities, specializing in balancing financial aid strategies with enrollment targets and retention concerns. She has conducted enrollment data analysis, managed regional territories, and created successful financial aid strategies for targeted demographics. In addition, Jennifer has a keen interest in retention, which includes predictive model development to identify at-risk first-year students.
Jennifer earned a B.S. and M.S. in Physics, both from Clarkson University. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.