Prepárate 2024

Financial Aid and Admissions Dialogue: “Any Time There’s Difficulty, It Creates Conversation, and Conversation Isn’t Bad”

During the “Financial Aid and Admissions Dialogue” session at the 2024 Prepárate™ Conference, panelists from higher ed and K–12 discussed a variety of topics, such as the changes financial aid offices are facing with this year’s FAFSA® and the impacts of Supreme Court rulings on admissions.  

Moderating the panel, Dean Bentley, executive director of financial aid engagement at College Board, leaned in to the hard questions, working with the panelists from higher education and high school college planning: Derek Kindle, vice provost of enrollment management at University of Wisconsin-Madison; Paul Negrete, executive director of university financial aid services at Rice University; and Tracey Morman, director of counseling/college and career readiness for Amarillo Independent School District.

Q: What are the predicted impacts for enrollment and summer melt given this year’s challenges? How are you preparing?

Kindle spoke directly to disproportional impacts on first-generation, low-income, and marginalized students, compared to students who don’t share those identities. Engaging intentionally with community-based organizations (CBOs) has become critical—not just for their institution but for supporting students through any college application process. 

Q: Considering the delays, will institutions move bill due dates back?

Bentley offered context for attendees on this question. Many institutions have admissions commitment deadlines, as well as deadlines around billing to secure fall enrollment. Many schools face challenges with pushing dates out given additional steps students then need to take (orientation and summer bridge programs, to name a few). Panelists were able to speak more specifically about their institutions and give advice for professionals supporting students.

Negrete and Kindle shared responses. At their institutions, bill due dates were already intentionally set a little further back in September. This allows students to get in and get settled. Each institution is assessing how it will handle things like late fees or students waiting for information from other institutions.

Morman chimed in with helpful advice from the counselor perspective. Reaching out and building relationships with higher education really matters. She advised encouraging students to reach out to the offices or leverage counselors to reach out on their behalf. Noting how she has worked to empower students to have these conversations, she recommended that students ask for an extension or ask for the support needed to make an informed decision.

Q: As we think about this moment in time in higher education, how can we support the students most at risk from these changes?

As a counselor, Morman’s focus is currently on FAFSA completions and supporting as many students as possible. The real answer is there’s no magic wand. Their office is doing FAFSA nights and completion days in schools, and they’re working closely with low-income and first-generation students who might be most impacted.

Negrete indicated that Rice University’s returning students may be experiencing the primary impacts at this stage. Typically, many returning students may have received aid offers already. This year, his team hasn’t been able to start processing due to the delays. And that’s not all. The aid office itself would usually be planning for next year’s cycle already, and that won’t happen until much later this summer. The compressed timelines have had a clear impact on their staff.

It isn’t just the FAFSA delays impacting students. Kindle commented further on the impacts of Supreme Court decisions on areas like scholarship selection. Many public institutions are feeling similar pressures, and the staff are asked to step up to meet some of these challenges head-on.

Q: What keeps you hopeful? Is there a practice that has come out of the challenges?

Kindle: “This year has been a perfect storm of change and delays. But we have a team committed to students, and we have students who still want to go to college and see value in higher education.”

Negrete: “Once FAFSA gets the kinks worked out, I think it will be great. Families have shared that when the FAFSA works well, it’s simple and easy and only takes about 10–15 minutes. I remain hopeful that once it’s worked out, everyone can have one more barrier to higher education removed. “

Morman: “Any time there’s difficulty, it creates conversation, and conversation isn’t bad. With conversation comes change. And I keep that in mind as we push through this year. Our partnerships with colleges and universities have been critical this year. Together as a community we’re working to solve problems and  make positive changes.”