It could be the lure of another school, or an aversion to paperwork, but for the 10 to 40 percent of admitted students who disappear come fall, concerns about financing were likely among the barriers that kept them from following through.
An Eduventures Survey of Admitted Students indicates that brand perception of affordability carries more weight than actual net costs as prospective students make their final decisions about where to attend.
Says Jim Callinan, associate director of enrollment strategy at Collegis Education, “Admissions counselors and financial aid staff should ask the question you know the student isn’t asking.”
In an NPR/Hidden Brain podcast on summer melt that originally ran in 2017 and was rebroadcast in 2018, one of the students interviewed remarked on how some students are embarrassed to ask questions about financing or other obstacles, especially if they feel as though they should already have the answers. They don’t want to let on they don’t know.
Callinan agrees, saying that the earlier a college admissions counselor can get to the heart of a student’s questions on affordability, the better. However, the topic tends to be avoided as much on the college side as by the students.
What really helps is when admissions counselors team up with financial aid staff to create interactions with students that are both warm and informational.
The college should not assume that a student or their family will be able to make up the difference between any financial aid given and the actual cost of attending. If there’s a gap, talk with the student about how other students have faced similar circumstances. Point out what options they have.
“What really helps is when admissions counselors team up with financial aid staff to create interactions with students that are both warm and informational,” says Callinan. “It’s critical that students and parents hear both encouragement and the facts. The facts can get lost in piecemeal information about financial aid and scholarships. The student may not fully understand how much they’ll owe, or not. The student and their parents may have no idea what the net cost of attending is. Often, they’ll fall back on perceptions that aren’t really based on the numbers.”
Colleges would do well to keep underscoring value by sharing graduate outcomes and the other ways the college offers a high-value experience. Reminders that are timed just ahead of when payments are due could help ease any doubts that haunt the student or parents.
Colleges should also consider the communications that students and parents typically get from colleges after the student is admitted. They start getting checklists of things to do. They may get duplicate communications from multiple departments. As payment dates loom, is anyone sending reminders of how valued the student is and what they have to look forward to?
“It’s critical to keep nurturing the institution’s relationship with the student and parents long after the student has been admitted,” says Callinan. “Keep the institution’s value front and center. Help the student and parent understand all the building blocks that contribute to the overall value of attending the school. Share post-graduation job outcomes and keep notes on the overlap between your institution and each individual student’s aspirations. It may sound like a lot of work, but with today’s tools that make it easy to personalize communications, it’s not as hard as it sounds.”
 Eduventures, the research division of The National Research Center for College and University AdmissionsTM, “Future Proofing Affordability for Gen Z” by Kim Reid, Wakeup Call, Sept. 4, 2018.