USF Makes Scholarships and Financial Aid More Understandable

Dec. 12, 2017 | Joliet, Ill.

University of St. Francis is taking a public stand to make scholarships and financial aid more understandable. Financial barriers, real or perceived, can lead students to choose to not pursue a college degree. Families in need don’t always know where to look for available financial aid resources, or how to interpret this information when they find it. The University of St. Francis, in Joliet, Ill., is increasing the amount of scholarship funding available while also changing the way scholarship and financial aid information is being made available in a plan to make the process easier to understand.

“USF has a group of professional admissions and financial aid staff who meet with students and parents throughout the year. We talk about our degree programs and our graduation rates and professional opportunities, which everyone understands. Then we talk about our financial aid options and immediately lose many parents and most students,” said Eric Wignall, vice president for admissions and enrollment services at USF.

“You can actually see it in some cases, they just tune out. The details and complexity just overwhelms most students, no matter how smart or sophisticated they may be in their studies. We’ve decided to make it much, much simpler to understand,” Wignall said.

The university expanded and radically redesigned the scholarship information they are providing for students who will be enrolling in fall of 2018. The school increased the university scholarships and grants they offer high school students by as much as 10 percent but now illustrate the amounts with a simple information graphic.

“We created a very simple scholarship grid for high school students and their families. Instead of getting into a conversation similar to the sales routine of buying a car, which by itself can frustrate parents, we made it very clear how much we want good students to come to St. Francis,” he said.

The grid, shown below, is a list of scholarships offered by the university, works by listing student GPA (the grades they earn in high school) across one axis and test scores (the ACT or SAT tests students take during school) on the other axis. Tracing across the top or side of the chart any student can read how much scholarship funding is available at the school.

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The grid was designed by USF Creative Services Manager Adam Middleton, a graphic designer whose previous experience includes design work for UBS and Morningstar. Combining numerical data from test scores with financial information, the chart is an innovative effort at making university scholarship information accessible.

“Too many schools hide this information behind complex websites or in difficult to read brochures. We wanted to be very straightforward for everyone to see what’s available. Students can use this money for St. Francis tuition. It’s also very important to add, they can add onto this amount with other scholarships and grants from state and federal financial aid, from private foundations and community organizations, or for playing college sports,” Wignall said.

“We want to take the fear and guesswork out of paying for school.” said the University of St. Francis executive director of financial aid services Bruce Foote. “We are trying to make everything as clear as possible.”

Need-based aid from the state or federal government is added on top of the student’s academic award, Foote explained. “By filing the Free Application for federal Student Aid (FAFSA) you could qualify for thousands of dollars of aid from state and federal sources. Filing the FAFSA can’t hurt your aid in any way, it can only help. Every dollar you get from these sources is a dollar you don’t have to pay for school. It all helps.”

“Paying for a college is one of the best, most valuable, investments a person can make in their life. But, think about all of the costs that go along with university tuition; like transportation, textbooks, residence hall room and board and more. When you multiply that by four years, it’s understandable why a student feels overwhelmed by the cost. Rather than swimming in thousands of dollars in debt, scholarships can be the ticket to keep a student on the path to graduation. By increasing our scholarships, and making it all easier to understand, we are hoping to teach students and parents just how affordable an education can be,” Foote said.

Even the university’s tuition, set at $32,000 per year, was designed to make it easier to see the cost of a degree compared to other schools in the Midwest. “We are still a selective private university, but we are actually about the same cost as many large state universities when you add our scholarships to the picture,” Wignall said. Prices for many graduate degree and certificate programs were actually decreased for the upcoming year.

Financial aid and admissions staff at USF are all likely to point to a larger issue as well, explaining the increasing value of the degrees offered at the school.

During the last recession, according to the Lumina Foundation, while low skill jobs were being eliminated to save companies money, the number of jobs for Americans with a bachelor’s degree or more actually increased. “The types of workers the country needs are more skilled and specialized. And there aren’t enough well educated university grads to fill the jobs we have in the economy today. The outlook for a university grad for the next ten years is even brighter. Investing in yourself, in your college education now, means a brighter future for all of us,” Wignall said.

“In addition to being more ‘fire-proof’ as they say, able to hold onto a good job in good times or bad, graduates are more likely to be active citizens, have healthier lifestyles, spend more time with their kids and give back to the community. USF grads earn good salaries. Some start companies that hire workers in the region. They are nurses, accountants, and teachers who own homes and pay taxes. They are your neighbors and their gains affect all of our families and communities. It may seem like a grand statement, but our scholarships can help students obtain these successes in life and lead to a smarter, stronger nation,” Wignall said.