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A student sits at her kitchen table with bills and a calculator, laptop open in front of her

Video messages sent to each incoming Paul Smith’s College student will breakdown their financial aid offerings and the total cost of attendance.

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As the cost of higher education continues to rise, colleges and universities seek to be more transparent and generous in their financial aid offerings to improve access and address students’ concerns around personal finances and the return on investment.

Almost three in four (72 percent) students enrolled during the 2019–20 academic year received some type of financial aid, according to the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistic’s National Postsecondary Student Aid Study.

Staff at Paul Smith’s College in New York create personalized videos for admitted students to walk them through their financial aid packages. The initiative provides transparency into the cost of attendance and helps build students’ and families’ confidence in their decision-making.

What’s the need: The new FAFSA rollout, which began behind schedule on January 1, has come with many delays and headaches for financial aid officers, students and families, Congressmembers and the Department of Education alike.

In the midst of federal challenges, students say the cost of attending college is one of the primary reasons they’d stop out, and underrepresented minority students are most likely to be impacted by financial insecurity. A new study from Trellis Strategies found 61 percent of students worry about having enough money to pay for school.

At Paul Smith’s, virtually all students are on some form of financial aid and many are Pell Grant eligible and first-generation college students, Kathy Bonavist, vice president of marketing and enrollment management says.

In years past, students would receive a financial aid package through their student portal or as a physical copy, but this year, incoming students also receive a video tailored to them that breaks down their financial aid and costs of attending the college.

How it works: College leaders partnered with an outside consultant, Ruffalo Noel Levitz, to create the videos, providing each student’s financial aid information, photos and video clips and other information about campus life and the value of a college degree.

The videos all contain similar information, but each one is tailored to the recipient, addressing them by name and providing information about their degree program, as applicable, Bonavist explains.

Now, students are able to read, see and hear about their financial aid all at the same time, replicating and enhancing previously available materials.

This kind of outreach is fairly new in higher education, as well, with Paul Smith’s being one of a handful of institutions providing video financial aid packages.

One of the key elements of the videos is explanation of the different types of aid offered to students, including scholarships, grants and loans, to help students make informed decisions about their financial investments. The average 17-year-old may not understand the of a student loan, but college leaders hope these videos will help illuminate the obligation.

Next steps: This year is the first time admitted students will receive their videos, and leaders expect the initiative will become standard practice at Paul Smith’s for all incoming students, with the hope that it makes students prepared to pay for their education throughout their time at the college.

“I’d like to think that being proactive like this will become a national standard,” Bonavist says. “The more students understand the commitment they’re making for themselves [in paying for college], the better off they’ll be.”

Due to FAFSA delays, Paul Smith’s extended its commitment deadline to June 1, so the college doesn’t have data on how the videos impacted student enrollment. But the launch of the video packages may be advantageous for the college’s families, who have heightened pressures with less time to make decisions around enrollment.

Bonavist also sees an opportunity to cater this offering for current students at the college who are about to graduate with loans to provide additional education on what next steps could look like for them.

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