A promising resource to aid today’s students

Postsecondary learning has never mattered more than it does right now—to individual Americans or to the nation. Labor experts and economists agree that 21st-century jobs that offer a family-sustaining income require elevated knowledge and skills, the type of learning acquired through high-quality education and training beyond high school.

Unfortunately, at a time when a postsecondary credential is vital to nearly every American, far too many find such a credential unattainable because of rising costs and increasing levels of unmet need. Today’s students face very high financial barriers that can no longer be overcome solely by traditional financial aid.

Grants, public and private scholarship programs, and student loans are all important tools for low-income students. But these forms of traditional financial aid just aren’t enough when:

  • At least one-third of undergraduates qualify as low-income.
  • Students struggle financially to meet day-to-day needs such as food, housing, transportation, and child care.
  • Academically talented students in the lowest income bracket graduate at a rate lower than that of the lowest academically performing students from wealthy families.

What is needed to address these inequities and change this dynamic – and what is already working on many campuses – is a broader, more comprehensive, more nuanced approach. It is an approach that offers students a range of effective services to strengthen their financial stability. What is needed is a thoughtful effort such as the one outlined on these pages, an effort that goes, as the title of this publication suggests, Beyond Financial Aid (BFA).

BFA is a compendium of best practices for assisting low-income students. It highlights good work that has been underway for years, but hasn’t always been implemented at scale, especially within institutions that enroll significant numbers of low-income students. We tested BFA with the field – at more than 100 public community colleges and universities, across three college and university systems and two national postsecondary associations. We vetted BFA with representatives of more than 10 national organizations focused on improving postsecondary policy, practice, equity, and poverty.

This work has shown us that BFA is, in fact, a valuable resource for postsecondary institutions and systems, states, communities, associations, and other organizations across the country. It offers leaders five concrete strategies they can use in two ways to increase student success. First, it can help determine how, and how well, their institutions are serving low-income students; second, it can help them devise and implement plans to improve, expand, and better coordinate services for greater impact.

BFA can help anyone who is working to increase the retention and completion of students who face the highest barriers to success. And these students simply must succeed if we are to meet our nation’s needs for talent.

Thank you for your commitment to that vital effort.

Jamie P. Merisotis,
President and CEO

Next: Making the Case for Supporting Low-Income Students »