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Financial Aid as the Centerpiece of the Transformative Student Experience

December 11, 12:00 PM - 12:30 PM

Steve Hahn | Huron Consulting Group

Summit Stage Recording

About the Speaker

Steve Hahn
Senior Director, Student Strategy @ Huron Consulting

  • Joined Huron in January 2020
  • Worked at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in various leadership roles, most recently as the Vice Provost for Enrollment Management at UW-Madison
  • Passionate about improving access to higher education, making college more affordable for all students, and innovating around the student experience. Worked in university admissions and academic services, information technology, financial aid, and enrollment management for over 20 years.

The Story

The power of a bus:

I had an epiphany while sitting & having lunch on State Street in Madison Wisconsin a few years ago. We had begun to do some innovative things in Financial Aid at the UW, including a research lab and a new aid program, Bucky's Tuition promise.

  • Began to advertise this, including on city busses (a first for our Financial aid office). One of our busses rolled by.
  • Struck me that not only was this effective advertising, but a very apt metaphor.
  • The power of financial aid is not back in the office, back in the "garage"
  • The power of financial aid literacy is when deployed in the community and places where our students live.
  • This has implications for not only the way we organize ourselves in Financial Aid, but also the way we conceive Financial Aid - as a centerpiece of the new student experience.

The Why

Financial Aid is complex and lives at the intersection of a college’s access mission, student services, and compliance. There is no greater calling in higher education and yet no bigger challenge than ensuring a path for access to all who may want it.

  • Financial aid questions will be at the forefront in the new presidential administration.
  • At the same time, on a more local level, Financial Aid services and financial literacy are becoming the centerpiece of a new student experience.
  • Not just for onboarding students anymore - critical throughout the student lifecycle and after.
  • We need to invest in a student-centric re-evaluation of our business.

What's Next

COVID has been a critical experience in many ways of course; for financial aid, COVID has demonstrated the centrality of financial aid to the student experience.

  • In March last year, it was often to Financial Aid that students turned to first, and not strictly for financial aid questions but for solutions to other problems too.
  • Moreover, COVID has given more academic options for students than they ever have had before, now and going forward they are truly the “general contractors” of their own academic experience. Via new remote learning, they will choose from among their expanded options based in part on the student experience.
  • COVID has demonstrated new ways that financial aid can reach students (and their parents) effectively, and these practices should be continued.
  • Finally, COVID has given us this administratively flexible and innovative time. Our organizations are open to new ideas and new practices. There is a renewed sense of mission around our most vulnerable populations.
  • Schools who long for a return to normal operations are missing what will be a transformative shift in student expectations. Those who use 2020 as a catalyst for a student centric approach will be even better advantaged to meet students' needs in the future.

Call to Action

To meet these challenges of the future, schools should decide to use the experiences coming out of COVID to redesign their work and their mission from the framework of the student experience.

  • Rethink the role of financial aid - is it only compliance and business operations, or is it mission based to get aid (and options) into the hands of as many students as possible? Redeploy your financial aid staff physically and virtually into your high schools, your church groups, your boys’ and girls’ clubs, your community, your state.
  • Consider automation, to allow you to invest in getting financial aid professionals out of the office and into these communities that they serve.
  • Consider the alignment of financial aid practices and recruitment/admissions timing, for of course they are related in the mind of your students. Indeed, consider the alignment of financial aid with academic services more generally, as opposed to the business operations of campus where it is often found.
  • Use data for analytics that combine admissions, recruitment, alignment with mission, and student success and retention metrics - and do not forget about continuing students, for even they must be "recruited" each year.
  • Assess what worked from 2020--for much was new--and plan for ways to retain this rather than returning to "normal."
  • Through one-stops, communications, and general alignment with student services and student spaces, financial aid professionals can take an even greater in helping students on their paths, and helping universities achieve their missions.

Closing Thoughts

Thank you! Questions?

Steve Hahn:

What will you do with what you just learned?

"You can design today for tomorrow, or you can design tomorrow, today."