Beyond Financial Aid: Six Strategies for Supporting Low-Income College Students

Published jun. 30, 2015

According to Lumina Foundation

, nearly one-third of American undergraduate students receive federal Pell grants, yet many do not complete their postsecondary degree because of financial challenges.

Lumina recently released a guidebook, Beyond Financial Aid, for college administrators to improve financial aid and completion success for low-income students. Authored by our friends and partners at the National Center for Inquiry and Improvement, Priyadarshini Chaplot, Darla M. Cooper, Rob Johnstone, and Kelley Karandjeff, the guidebook details six crucial strategies and emphasizes promising approaches being implemented by colleges and universities. It also recommends that colleges target their aid at students with the greatest financial need and provide integrated student supports beyond tuition and fees that focus on alleviating cost-of-living expenses such as housing, transportation, and other living costs.

Colleges can also expand the reach of their support by leveraging external partnerships, as well as by assessing internal policies and procedures that may unintentionally hinder students who demonstrate financial need.

The guidebook encourages schools to discover new ways to provide financial stability to strengthen students’ academic progression through college. The following six strategies are keys to enabling low-income students to succeed.

1. Know the low-income students at your institutions: Colleges identify the number of low-income students at their respective institutions and utilize the information from FAFSA to make data-driven decisions.

2. Provide supports to help low-income students overcome practical barriers: Colleges think holistically in supporting low-income students by partnering with different resources that may alleviate their day-to-day challenges related to transportation access, course scheduling, food assistance, and more.

3. Leverage external partnerships for service delivery: Institutions partner with off-campus service providers to provide even more supports without increasing costs, such as pro bono legal services, food pantries, services from community-based organizations, and more.

4. Empower low-income students to utilize available resources: Colleges conduct benefit screenings for all students to determine financial aid need and educate students on financial aid literacy. Institutions also use marketing and other tactics to reduce any stigma toward utilizing resources.

5. Review your internal processes: College staff can create a flowchart that shows how low-income students navigate the college’s student services processes around financial stability resources to ensure that the processes are efficient and connected. This can also be used to educate faculty and student service professionals about the myriad challenges low-income students face.

6. Implement effective practices to strengthen the academic progression of all students: Colleges can provide students with career exploration opportunities and enable them to monitor their educational progress, as well as track student wages after graduation to understand their program benefits. Practices such as these, while helpful to all students, can make a greater difference for low-income students.

Jobs for the Future is excited about this new tool and its ability to help colleges impact thousands of low-income students. We spoke to the developers of Beyond Financial Aid and others striving to improve outcomes for disadvantaged students in the postsecondary sphere at our conference Bridging the Gap: Postsecondary Pathways for Underprepared Learners. The brief resulting from these conversations, “These People Just Keep Trying to Help Me,” highlights several of the above as well as additional strategies for developing far-reaching supports to increase college and career success for low-income youth and adults.

Photograph courtesy of Community College of Denver, 2004