From Student Affairs: Financial Aid Office Takes an Active Role in Student Success

ACC has long supported students in getting ready for college, worked with them to get them enrolled, and assisted them in receiving financial aid. But with more students participating in postsecondary education than ever before, and the adoption of Guided Pathways in 2016, its Financial Aid office has redesigned various elements of financial aid programs to intentionally nurture and direct all students toward completion and intentionally focus on equity by reaching out to traditionally underserved students. Learn some of the most important information faculty and staff should know about financial aid and find out how you can get involved.

PERSISTENCE: FINANCIAL AID MATTERS

We know from higher education research that college, state, and federal financial aid can have direct and indirect positive effects on semester to semester and year to year persistence.

Financial Aid staff have been proactive in helping Senate Bill students complete their TASFA, including visiting with high school ESOL counselors and sponsoring events dedicated to TASFA/FAFSA completion. In spring 2019, the Financial Aid office saw a 76% increase in TASFA forms for undocumented students.

ACC Student Engagement & Analytics has also examined the persistence outcomes of students receiving financial aid. In a recent analysis, it compared the persistence rate of students receiving financial aid to the persistence rate of all ACC students (regardless of financial aid status) for fall 2017 to fall 2018 and for fall 2017 to fall 2018.

Persistence was defined as enrollment into the identified semester or being awarded a certificate/degree before the identified semester start date. (The financial aid groupings are not mutually exclusive; this means that a student may fall into one or more groups.)

As the charts below show, it found that financial aid recipients had a higher persistence rate than the overall student population, meaning that students who received financial aid are more likely to stay enrolled or complete a certificate or degree.

The charts also shows how three types of financial aid—grants, scholarships, and loans—are related to persistence. (Examples of grants include Federal Pell Grants and Supplemental Educational Opportunity. Scholarships are typically awarded to ACC students by the ACC Foundation and outside/private scholarships. The loans available to college students include federal subsidized and unsubsidized Stafford loans and federal PLUS loans for parents.) Among students receiving financial aid, grants and scholarships—financial aid money that does not need to be paid back—were associated with higher persistence rates.

Examining the data with an equity lens will be a priority for 2019-20.

Source: LiveODS database. Data analyses by the ACC Student Engagement & Analytics Office.

Source: LiveODS database. Data analyses by the ACC Student Engagement & Analytics Office.

Financial Aid is in collaboration with the Office of Institutional Effectiveness & Accountability to map low-income areas for more effective outreach. Regional Directors will be charged with fostering outreach in low-income areas.

HELPING STUDENTS UNDERSTAND SATISFACTORY ACADEMIC PROGRESS

In August 2017, the Financial Aid office began using GetSAP, a user-friendly online tutorial platform of YouTube-type videos that teaches students about "SAP," or Satisfactory Academic Progress, a requirement for receiving and keeping federal financial aid. At ACC, students must meet three standards to maintain SAP status: 1) a cumulative 2.0 or higher GPA for ACC classes, 2) successful completion of 67% of attempted credits, and 3) progress toward finishing a program of study within a 150% maximum time frame. New ACC students are sent the first GetSAP video directly so that they're aware of what they need to do to make sure they keep their financial aid.

GetSAP also has a financial appeal process component for students that fail to meet SAP. In the past, this process could be dramatically time-consuming for a student working to get back to meeting the SAP standards: Students had to go to an office and speak with a counselor; the counselor decided whether or not the student qualified for an appeal form; the appeal form went to the dean of student services; and, finally, the Financial Aid office received it.

Now, students can access the appeal form online at any time by completing and passing a GetSAP video series and quiz. Once they complete this form, they can submit it themselves directly to a Financial Aid office.

"We're seeing dramatic changes already," said Jason Briseno, Student Assistance & Veterans Affairs executive director. Since the Financial Aid office began using GetSAP to teach new students about SAP and returning students about the appeal process, he has seen a seven percent decrease from 2017-2018 to 2018-2019 in the total number of students who have been suspended from financial aid.

WORK-STUDY: BUILDING A CAREER RESUME

To help students pay for college, ACC participates in the Federal Work-Study program. Work-study is a form of need-based financial aid that allows students to earn money from on- and off-campus part-time jobs to pay education expenses.

In 2018-2019, in collaboration with departments, Financial Aid began offering "Career Pathway/Area of Study" work-study positions aligned with students' Areas of Study (AoS). For 2019-2020, everyone that requests a new work-study position must check at least two related AOSs (a primary and a secondary area). Dedicated to providing as many students as possible with AoS jobs—from Arts, Digital Media, and Communications to Science, Engineering, and Math—Peña will review all of the requests to determine if there are areas that are underrepresented. If there are, she plans to reach out to the academic departments where those areas are located to see whether they: a) have existing work-study positions that are either already AoS-related or can be tailored to their AoS or b) are able to create new Career Pathway/Area of Study positions.

"We want students to go into fields that make sense for their major," says Belinda Peña, Financial Aid work study/outreach coordinator. In addition to helping faculty, staff, and other employers throughout the semester with whatever they need, Career Pathway/Area of Study jobs can provide important hands-on experience for students, preparing them for entry into a career.

Moving to Career Pathway/Area of Study jobs requires a lot of changing—changing work descriptions, tailoring jobs to programs, recruiting faculty and staff supervisors, and making the work-study process more efficient and effective for both students and employers by using online methods and establishing systematic procedures—but the results speak for themselves.

In just the first year since Career Pathway/Area of Study positions were created, there has been an 81 percent increase in work-study disbursements (paychecks) to students and 24 percent more students are in work-study jobs, says Briseno. "Not only are students getting more involved with work-study but they're working longer hours."

Work-study is a key component of student staying and finishing at ACC, he says. He explained that when students are doing work that they like, gaining real world experience, and in jobs aligned with their program, they are invested in those jobs, and, by extension, ACC. Both he and Peña want more students to apply for work-study jobs and for more faculty and staff to request work-study positions. "That's something going forward that we're going to continue to invest in," he says.

Financial aid has also used Federal Work Study to support equity and success. It has placed work-study students at the Housing Authority City of Austin (HACA) to help minority/low income populations with their technology needs. Another example of this type of off-site partnership is the Federal Work Study placement of recent Hispanic graduates of KIPP Austin to mentor at KIPP Academy and foster the transition to college.

SCHOLARSHIPS ARE FOR EVERYONE

Need- and merit-based ACC Foundation Scholarships have made a difference for hundreds of students. In 2018, the ACC Foundation raised over $1 million dollars—their largest amount ever—allowing ACC to award scholarships to more than 600 students. This year, it plans to beat that $1 million record and offer more scholarship opportunities than ever before, says Stephanie Marquez, financial aid scholarship supervisor. Marquez works closely with the ACC Foundation to promote the scholarships and increase the number of scholarship applications. She also leads the Scholarship Selection Committee, a group that includes faculty and staff volunteer reviewers.

Marquez's efforts to promote student awareness of the ACC Foundation scholarship opportunities have included partnering with the Student Money Management Office on social media campaigns and text message alerts. The Student Money Management Office also puts on "Finding the Money" Scholarship Workshops that focus in part on teaching students how to apply for ACC Foundation scholarships, and Marquez thinks these workshops have had a positive effect on applicants. This year in particular she has noticed more completed applications and an increase in the quality of the applications and essays.

Financial Aid communicated with almost 10,000 students via text message regarding financial aid, scholarships, payment, and registration in spring 2019. Nearly 50% of these students were Hispanic or Latino.

In spring 2019 she is looking to reach even more students with a new "Refer a River Bat" marketing campaign. Faculty and staff will receive cards to give to students they know to encourage them to apply for scholarships. She is trying a more personalized approach that may make students more likely to apply. She has found that "when students are being encouraged or being told that they can do something, they're more likely to take action." If students receive a card from a trusted faculty or staff member, she says, it can give them the confidence to apply for a scholarship.

Marquez has also started to think about how to build a one-stop scholarship finder for students—a scholarship search site that would allow students to find not only ACC Foundation scholarships, but also other ACC and outside scholarships. Over the years, Marquez has been contacted to advertise outside scholarships. In the past, she has sent these opportunities out to faculty and staff because there isn't a platform available to list them along with ACC Foundation scholarships, but she thinks a central location would cast a wider net for qualified students for these types of scholarships.

WHAT CAN FACULTY AND STAFF DO?

Learn about Satisfactory Academic Progress, financial aid eligibility, and other financial aid topics through short videos at Financial Aid TV (FATV)

Faculty and staff are often approached by students who may be in danger of losing their financial aid because of grades or withdrawals, says Briseno. Financial Aid staff are better positioned to provide specialized financial aid advice, but it is critical that students also get support and information from faculty and staff with whom they have built relationships.

Request a work-study position

Although requests for work-study positions are accommodated year-round, faculty and staff are encouraged to submit requests by July 5 for 2019-2020 positions and by October 31 for spring 2020 only positions.

Encourage students to apply for scholarships and become a scholarship reviewer

Look for the "Refer a River Bat" cards that will be delivered via campus mail and use them to encourage all students to apply, not just students with high GPAs. ACC Foundation scholarships are also "awarded on the basis of financial need, family status, educational background, high school, or academic major."

To become a reviewer, go to Workshop & Event Registration in early fall 2019 and search for "Scholarship Selection Committee Review." Volunteers must commit a minimum of 3 hours to reading, scoring, and discussing ACC Foundation scholarship applications. Previous experience is not required and training is provided during the review session.

Encourage ALL students to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) EACH year that they are enrolled in a degree-seeking program at ACC

The FAFSA is the primary way that ACC determines most students' eligibility for financial aid. The Financial Aid office is always coming up with impactful ways to get all eligible students to complete the FAFSA—not just first-time students—but getting more students to complete the FAFSA is an ongoing major focus. Students can access the FAFSA at http://www.fafsa.gov/.

If you have any questions about financial aid, contact: Jason Briseno, Student Assistance & Veterans Affairs executive director, at jbrisen2@austincc.edu or (512) 223-7950.


By Dora Elias McAllister, Student Affairs Communications content strategist // July 2019

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