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Rethinking Departmental Scholarships - Monday Musings

By Mary Piccioli on Oct 03, 2011

Should academic departments have sole control over departmental scholarships?
What does your institution do?

Tags: financial aid


Deep cuts in state appropriations; cost-cutting measures; centralization of administrative functions. These phrases are oft penned these days when describing the climate at many public institutions. Departmental scholarships may be an area where finding efficiencies could provide some relief.

Departmental AwardingOur travels to almost 300 institutions over the years have taken us to dozens of public colleges and universities. More often than not, these visits reveal that many public institutions (and, truth be told, a number of privates) do not even think about departmental scholarships when considering how to more strategically deploy institutional grants and scholarships to meet enrollment goals.

Consistently what we observe is… well... inconsistency within an institution as to how departmental scholarships are handled. Clearly, a donor’s criteria must be adhered to. But even when a donor’s wishes are not restrictive, some departments use funds to reward returning students. Others use them for recruitment of new students. Others think they are using them to help recruit new students, but offers aren’t made early enough in the cycle to influence the decision of an admitted student. Still others make no effort at all to coordinate offers with the financial aid office. And, it is often the case that record-keeping about scholarship offers is decentralized or non-existent.

Best practice use of departmental scholarships includes using the funds to replace unfunded scholarships. If a donor wants a scholarship to go to an academic high-flyer majoring in Chemistry, and an institution would provide a merit scholarship to that student anyway, the endowed scholarship could be used to replace the regular merit award. In addition, protocols that encourage stewardship should be standard. Recipients of departmental scholarships should be made aware of the name of the scholarship, especially when it is replacing a generic merit award. And scholarship recipients should be strongly encouraged to send an acknowledgement to the donor or foundation. Celebratory events that allow the student recipient and donor to meet are great opportunities for donors to see their contributions at work.

How is your institution using departmental scholarships? Are there better ways to meet the goals of both the department and the institution? Should the application and record-keeping become more centralized? Is the stewardship component up to par?

Image © iStockphoto.


Mary PiccioliAbout the author: Enrollment Management Consultant Mary Piccioli joined Scannell & Kurz in April of 2009. She consults on a variety of enrollment management topics, both strategic and operational in nature – from strategic financial aid analysis and strategic enrollment planning to financial and admissions operations reviews. She previously served as Assistant Vice President of Institutional Research and Planning as well as the Dean of Enrollment at St. Bonaventure University, where her responsibilities included undergraduate and graduate admissions, financial aid and institutional research. Prior to that position she served 14 years as the Director of Financial Aid.

Mary holds a B.S. degree in mathematics and an M.B.A, both from St. Bonaventure University.

Connect with Mary on LinkedIn and Twitter @marypiccioli.


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