Beyond Financial Aid calls on colleges and universities to rethink student financial support, increase student success

INDIANAPOLIS–Completing education beyond high school is essential to Americans’ well-being and economic success. But rising costs and inadequate financial resources hinder too many students from earning postsecondary credentials. Recognizing this, Lumina Foundation today released a guide designed to help colleges and universities increase student success by rethinking their approach to supporting low-income students.

The guidebook, titled Beyond Financial Aid (BFA), identifies six key strategies for improving services for low-income students. BFA showcases promising approaches that colleges and universities are already employing, and offers these ideas as guides for all institutions. It also features an institutional self-assessment designed to help postsecondary institutions determine their effectiveness in serving low-income students and take steps toward improving their practices.

“At a time when college success is vital to nearly every American, far too many find that success unattainable because of rising costs and increasing levels of unmet need,” said Jamie Merisotis, president and CEO of Lumina Foundation. “Low-income college students face very high financial hurdles—barriers that can no longer be overcome solely through the use of traditional financial aid.”

One in three college students is considered low-income, based on receipt of federal Pell grants, and many struggle to meet day-to-day financial needs. Data show that lack of resources can deter many from completing their degrees: The most academically promising students in the lowest income bracket graduate at a rate of only 26 percent—a full 44 percentage points lower than students in the highest income bracket with identical test scores.*

Beyond Financial Aid calls on institutions to think of the financial supports needed, beyond just tuition costs, to support low-income students as they pursue postsecondary credentials. Such assistance may provide for and take into account adequate nutrition, transportation, housing and childcare, as well as financial, tax and legal services. Access to these supports, Lumina argues, will help students focus on their educational goals and complete their degrees.

BFA also urges institutions to review and revise their pricing structures, financial aid strategies and scholarship policies to help ensure the success of all students.

“What’s needed to address these inequities and change this dynamic—and what is already working on many campuses—is a broader, more holistic, more nuanced approach,” Merisotis said. “It’s an approach that offers students a range of services to strengthen financial stability—and offers them in effective, innovative, culturally sensitive ways.”

The six strategies Beyond Financial Aid offers institutions for improving financial aid and better supporting low-income students include:

  • Reviewing data to identify low-income students better understand their needs;
  • Offering financial aid packages that extend beyond tuition support to include benefits such as food assistance and health care;
  • Leveraging external partnerships to better provide support services to low-income students;
  • Reducing the stigma of using financial supports to increase their use among students—for example, by enabling students to opt out of services, rather than requiring them to opt in;
  • Auditing their internal policies and procedures to ensure processes don’t negatively impact students with financial need; and
  • Finding ways to increase all students’ academic progression.

To access the guidebook, provide feedback and learn more about Beyond Financial Aid, visit:

*Affluent Students Have an Advantage and the Gap is Widening, December 12, 2012, New York Times based on research from Bowen, W.G., Chingos, M M., & McPherson, M.S. (2009). Crossing the Finish Line: Completing College at America’s Public Universities. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press

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