Strategy 2: Review internal processes and organize student sponsors
Low-income students face many hardships outside the classroom that can undermine educational success. These hardships may include unreliable and inadequate access to food, shelter, transportation, health care and child care, and the inability to manage with limited incomes. Many postsecondary institutions provide a mix of on-campus services and off-campus services to assist low-income students beyond grants, scholarships, and loans. These services primarily help students build financial stability in the short term, and strengthen their skills to establish long-term self-sufficiency. When institutional practices and policies are created, they are created to fit specific conditions. However, unless practices and policies account for changing student needs and circumstances, what was designed as an appropriate intervention or support may become obsolete or have unintended negative consequences.
In the “Landscape Analysis of Emergency Aid Programs,” 28 more than 80 percent of administrators reported that their institutions maintain records of students who receive emergency aid, while 68 percent indicated that their institutions do not use tools to analyze data about students who receive aid. This report describes effective emergency aid systems as maximizing institutional resources and support for low-income students by addressing processes for the administration, communication, and sustainability of programs, including procedures related to:
- Identification of students in need of aid.
- Rate of response to students.
- Coordination of programs across departments.
- Program awareness.
- Student learning about personal financial responsibility.
- Data analysis about the effect of the aid on student success and metrics over time.
When Skyline College in San Bruno, Calif. decided to begin online registration at midnight, officials soon realized that this move put many low-income students at a disadvantage. If these low-income students lacked internet access, they could not register for classes until the registrar’s office opened next morning. To reduce this “digital divide” and equalize this opportunity for all students, Skyline officials opened on-campus and online registration at the same time.
Service blueprinting, process flowcharting, and student journey mapping are just a few easy-to-use techniques that can assist in the process of reviewing and organizing more effective supports for low-income students. In the Center for Law and Social Policy’s Benefits Access for College Completion initiative, participating community colleges mapped student flow patterns that displayed how colleges help students gain access to public benefits.
To maximize impact and sustainability, it is critical to organize services and resources and direct them to students who are most in need and most able to benefit. While almost any segment of the student population could use additional support, there are some student populations that face unique financial barriers to postsecondary completion, including: first-generation students, foster youth, students of color, student parents, undocumented students, and military veterans. However, all students in these groups may not be at equal risk. By using data analytics to identify students for targeted interventions, institutions can better leverage their limited resources. In “The Use of Predictive Analytics at Colleges and Universities: A Landscape Analysis,” institutions used data analytics to target three primary groups—those with the highest risk of stopping out for academic or engagement reasons; students who are doing just well enough, but need some support; and those who are at high-risk for stopping out.
GSU and LaGuardia Community College are two examples of institutions using data analytics to identify groups of students that may benefit from targeted services that can be facilitated with the use of technology. GSU worked with the Education Advisory Board to analyze ten years of student financial data and create a system that identifies students who are at risk of dropping out because of finances. GSU’s system of alerts includes triggers such as late payment of bills, failure to sign up for campus services, choosing a single room in a dormitory when the aid package covers only the cost of a quad, etc. These alerts allow GSU to reach out to students and address their needs proactively and in a timely manner. At LaGuardia Community College, financial aid staff flag certain students in the student information system based on their application responses so that additional benefits can be offered to them.
By reviewing internal processes and organizing student supports, institutions can better identify students who need support and can streamline students’ paths to critical support services. Additionally, by reviewing internal processes and organizing student supports, institutions will be better able to serve their students and more effective at increasing student retention and completion.