Institutional Financial Aid Process Should be Simplified
The application process for institutional financial aid can be long and complicated, often requiring students to speculate on financial details they may not know or feel comfortable raising with their family. A new report published by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) suggests that the application process can be shortened by as much as 80 per cent, without compromising its effectiveness.
In Simplifying the Application Process for Institutional Financial Aid: A Case Study at Brock University , the authors argue a streamlined survey questionnaire would reduce staff time, require less uninformed speculation by students on possible future income and help eliminate much of the intimidation of a complex financial aid application, which may deter people from applying for needed funds.
As part of a series of research projects commissioned by HEQCO examining student services, the authors created a five question short-form loan calculator and compared it to the existing 25 question application calculator in place at Brock University. Brock currently provides a bursary of up to $1,250 to entering students who demonstrate financial need and received more than 600 applications for the bursary in 2010. The authors took the gathered data from the bursary application questionnaire and ran it through their own calculator to determine its effectiveness.
In 91 per cent of cases, the short-form calculator produced the same level of bursary eligibility, with only 66 instances of significant differences between the two calculators. While both assessment tools take into consideration parental income, family size, number of siblings in postsecondary education, living situation and available resources, the long-form Brock calculator also asks students to speculate on their future income before attending school as well as their likely income while studying. As a result, students may be guessing on up to 14 months of future income and this may be producing results that are an inaccurate representation of the student’s actual financial situation.
While the short-form calculator was effective when compared to Brock’s current process, it can still be refined. By creating a compromise between the two systems to accommodate information on marital status and number of dependents, the calculator’s accuracy can likely be increased, without significant further complexity for students.
In the report, the short-form calculator was designed to meet the specific needs of Brock University, so a direct comparison with existing federal and provincial financial assistance programs is not possible. Further research may produce similar shortened calculator systems that would simplify these complex processes for students and help them better understand and predict the amount of assistance they can expect.
This paper was submitted to HEQCO by the Canadian Education Project of the Higher Education Strategy Associates