Artwork for podcast Connected Philanthropy
Working With Colleges and Universities
Episode 6629th August 2022 • Connected Philanthropy • Foundant Technologies
00:00:00 00:30:59

Share Episode

Shownotes

In this Coffee Talk we discuss communication with colleges, who owns scholarship requirements adherence, and tips for working with colleges and universities.

Topics:

  1. Communication with colleges and students about scholarships.
  2. Different colleges rules and systems with scholarships.
  3. Tips for better communication for students and universities.

Connect with other members of the philanthropic community at Community.foundant.com

Transcripts

Lucy Rosenthal:

Welcome to connected philanthropy and today's Coffee Talk we discuss communication with colleges who own scholarship requirements, adherence and what are some tips to working with colleges and universities. Let's join the discussion.

Alyse Braaten:

Hi, everyone. I would say good morning. It is morning for me here on the West Coast. Welcome to today's Coffee Talk. Lauren and I are both really excited to have you here today. We're talking about a topic that is, I know, near and dear to both her and my heart, which is scholarship. So welcome all of our scholarship friends.

Alyse Braaten:

This is a great place to have those conversations together and kind of get the that perspective on scholarships from a lot of different places. It can be hard to connect in the scholarship space, and so we're really excited to be here with you today. Today's topic is all about working with your colleges and universities. So what kind of the main questions we're going to open up here today are what specifics do you include with every communication with your college or university?

Alyse Braaten:

Who owns scholarship requirement adherence? And also, do you have any secrets? What's how do you really hack this and make this as easy as possible? What are some of the best practices that you've picked up over the years or over over the last cycle? Just because you're newer in this space doesn't mean you don't have an awesome tip to share with someone who maybe has done this for a while.

Alyse Braaten:

So we're really excited to open up this conversation and start talking a little bit about working with our colleges and universities. Now, these are the three questions that we're going to be going through just to get the juices flowing. But if you have something else that you want to talk about in this space around working with colleges and universities, something else that maybe is not a direct answer to one of these questions, but is within that general purview.

Alyse Braaten:

Then please, we want to hear that too. So with that, let's dive into that first question. We're going to dive deep together. What specifics do you include with every communication with a college? So what are the types of things you're including with your check letters? What information do you put when you're setting the award itself and what are the things that you get back from schools?

Alyse Braaten:

They're saying like, Hey, we need more information, we need more of this, we need more of that on a particular student. So I definitely have my stories. I come from about ten years in scholarship administration. Lauren has her stories. She's coming from about the same amount of time. But we want to hear your stories today.

Lauren Rennie:

Alyse, Carol Sloper shared with the group that they include the student the last four of the Social Security, the fund name, scholarship amount and semester two apply it to oh act very similar to what I used to provide as well.

Connie Leaper:

I'll I'll say in the chat same sorts of things we also the student college ID we put which semester like do they want it credited to the to the whole amount to the fall semester. Would they like it split into two. And then the stuff that other people have said that they include.

Alyse Braaten:

Let me ask you a follow up question of do you send one when you're sending checks out to schools? If you have five students attending that same university, do you send one check and one letter outlining what should happen or do you send separate ones for each student?

Connie Leaper:

We do separate.

Alyse Braaten:

Do you feel like there is advantage, disadvantage? What made you select doing it separately versus doing it all together?

Connie Leaper:

Well, each scholarship is a different amount depending on the type of scholarship it is. It would just be complicated to say, you know, this person, it's not all. Everyone does get the same amount of award. So we got to say.

Alyse Braaten:

Feels more straightforward.

Connie Leaper:

Right? Right, right. Yeah.

Alyse Braaten:

Excellent.

Alyse Braaten:

Great. That's always a piece that I hear different answers to on that question. And they're always really good answers. Like everybody has a really good reason for making whichever choice they make. So it's just a point of curiosity for me. All right. Anybody else have something to share? Anything around this communication with your your colleges? What are some of the things outside of the standard that you include or that you have been asked to include in the past?

Anne:

Something that we realized a few years ago that we had to be really careful about at that time. We set some checks each semester for scholarships, some annually. And so we had to be really careful to make sure that we let them know whether this is a full year scholarship or semester award, because some schools automatically take a scholarship check and divided between the two semesters and others don't.

Anne:

And so while we had assumed that it was all treated the same way, we realize each school treats it differently. So we have to be specific about that. In the letter. Send it with the check.

Alyse Braaten:

Absolutely. And each school has those like standard processes that they're going to apply to anything unless told otherwise and. Right. Yeah, one school is going to be different than the other one, which means you just always have to communicate that.

Lee:

Hi there. We include very specific language about scholarship displacement, asking the school not to reduce its aid award that it's given to the student.

Alyse Braaten:

That's excellent. Yeah. And that is such an important part. And it's something that I feel like I didn't know my first few years working with scholarships, not understanding how financial aid was doled out at universities, quite early on. And this is for anyone in this space with us today who has not done this work for quite a while, really doing that research on award displacement is so important. So Lee, what prompted this this language? Is this something that was there in place when you started or that you implemented?

Lee:

This was implemented in the past year. So this will be our second scholarship season implementing this this particular language. The Pennsylvania Association of Community Foundation has spearheaded this language and in this issue because I guess that there were certain agreements with colleges and universities in Maryland that they would not displace awards, and they're working on that in the state of Pennsylvania as well.

Lee:

So our letters very clearly say if if don't displace any financial aid, if necessary, please reduce the amount of the students loan. And if you can't abide by any of the requests that we make with regard to this award, please send our money back.

Alyse Braaten:

Yeah, that's wonderful. One so important thing to always remember when you're giving out scholarships and working with universities, at that point, you're the donor that that table turns because we're so used to working with donors. You know, it can feel weird being the donor who can say, this is how I want you to spend this money and that needs to be adhered to.

Alyse Braaten:

So it's yeah, it's an interesting place to be. Next up, Lacey Neal.

Lacey Neal:

Yeah, so we put.

Lacey Neal:

That language in about ten years ago when I came on board just because I had worked in a financial aid office prior to arriving here and kind of saw how that was being handled from the financial aid side of things, because obviously the colleges want to keep as much of their money and distribute it as possible, but that's kind of why we put that wording in place on not causing a reduction in aid.

Lacey Neal:

And I believe Maryland right now is the only state that has rules in place on, you know, not reducing those forms of aid. So it's hard to see other states do that.

Alyse Braaten:

Yeah, there's definitely a difference between a practice and a requirement. And I think we see it practiced some other places. But yeah, Maryland is ahead of it's ahead of its time and or maybe it's right on time in getting that in place.

Lacey Neal:

And we put that in the letter and I put it in bold print. I can't guarantee that they are actually doing.

Lacey Neal:

It and following it.

Lacey Neal:

But if the students have any questions, I can I can refer back and say, listen, you were told to do it this way. We'll just take our money back if you're not going to. And it also frees up our scholarship dollars that if if a student has gotten a full ride somewhere and they can't accept it or it's going to cause a reduction in the aid that they're getting, that we can reallocate those dollars to another deserving student.

Alyse Braaten:

If you've had situations where that happens, do you have that conversation with the student kind of explaining those kind of how that would work out? Because I have had that and had maybe difficult conversations with students trying to help them understand.

Lacey Neal:

Yeah, and they can be difficult. We have found that our auditors will include things when we say that it can be used for books, supplies, equipment related to coursework. They'll include things like laptops or specialty calculators. So sometimes we can work with the student beforehand and purchase those back computer with the grant funds and then they just sign off that.

Alyse Braaten:

They have.

Lacey Neal:

Received this computer in this amount and they're forfeiting the rest of the scholarship. So we do kind of find ways for them to be able to use it. But if they can't, you know.

Alyse Braaten:

Yeah, great. Because I know that was a little bit off topic, but I appreciate you answering that one for us. Thank you Lacey.

Alleah:

My thought about what to say has changed as I listen to the couple of people before me. So I'll keep it short in that we were advised to put in our check letter a request to the schools to apply our scholarship before they applied other federal aid, sort of a request around the order in which it happens. Prior to my getting here, the language existed to return unused portions of the scholarship.

Alleah:

But what I would say I've learned over seven years is it doesn't matter what I build or highlight or the words that I use. There is a real hit or miss on whether or not the schools adhere to it. And so my question really is for and and we've also experienced in Ohio is where we are a difference between institutions as to the their own policy language about displacement of a right so we've gone to a practice of asking students on the front end to tell us what other scholarships and grants they're getting as a way to try and not send the money in the first place.

Alleah:

Right. So that's become the methodology that we're using. We're trying to narrow in on sending the right amount of money in the first place, rather than relying on getting unused or unemployable funds back. But in some cases, we still think there are issues and I'm curious if everybody, if anyone has found out a good way to audit the institutions with whom they work as to whether or not funds were appropriately applied will get funds back for example, on the student is not is no longer enrolled here so we'll get a semester's worth back or something like that, but very rarely.

Alleah:

And by that I mean probably never in seven and a half years have I gotten back a return of a portion of funds that weren't applicable to either the tax exempt categories when we only did that or to education related expenses. And we've just learned through conversations with schools that that money just gets refunded to the student at the end of the semester, even though we had all the bolded language, even though been assured by the advisors on our scholarship committee.

Alleah:

That that is absolutely what the institution should be doing. They're not necessarily doing it. And because there's no kind of audit process in place, we don't know how to go about tackling that. And we work with lots of institutions. I would estimate we probably send checks to over 50 institutions within a given year and sometimes maybe even more than that.

Alleah:

So and I'm looking for suggestions on the audit portion of because of the way it plays out for us.

Alyse Braaten:

Yeah. Yeah, I think it's interesting. So I was not expecting to hear you said that they were refunding the money to the students they were that they were passing on those additional dollars to the student because that's that's a pretty common practice. So long as the students award and overall aid doesn't go over the total cost of attendance, you will see that happen as a pretty common practice and love to have some hands raised on others.

Alyse Braaten:

You've had experience here. I have seen in the past some colleges or universities that don't refund to the student and also don't refund it to the foundation. And I feel like that's the really scary place to be in where you're like, what happens to those dollars? But that is few and far between one. One thing that I have done in this situation where I have a slightly different need for a particular scholarship or group of scholarships, is worked really closely with the college foundations rather than the financial aid office.

Alyse Braaten:

Because, as I said, you're a donor now, so you can go through that foundation door and get the the foundation level service as a donor to make sure that those things that you need are adhered to. That's just another kind of option for you. If you have those pieces that you really need handled in a way that is different than kind of the normal standard operating procedure, other hands raised on this one, this is all super interesting.

Lauren Rennie:

There's one other hand that's raised, but I believe that she has a different question. So I've got to one a little bit more in line with this and one that goes a little bit differently. So start with the one from Elsa Sanchez. How do you all make sure you're sending scholarship checks to the correct university address? At times, they can change frequently, and their websites aren't updated yet.

Lauren Rennie:

As someone who used to stock university websites that I hadn't worked with before, it is it can be very,

Lauren Rennie:

frustrating to get the one that you want and then you just hope that you know this is the right one. Are you calling? You're not getting the answer. So I completely understand how you feel about this. Does anybody have good ways that they're handling the addresses?

Jane:

Hi! So this is a really great question. And honestly, during COVID, this really hit us hard because we send we're not just we're in the state of Michigan, but we send to, to Indiana and Washington. I mean, you name it, we have students that are going to school across the US and so this really hit us hard and it's time consuming.

Jane:

But the way that we do it here at the at the community foundation that I work at is either I or an intern will contact the we directly call and we get in touch with either financial aid or the office of scholarships, whatever it may be. And we figure out if where, where the money needs to go. Essentially, if it's a university that we've never worked with before, we definitely make sure that we make that a priority and we reach out to them just to make sure that we are getting back the correct address.

Jane:

Because we do mail our checks out. We use to ask the students to provide us with that information, but so often it was coming back incorrect and so we just put it upon ourselves. Yes, it's time consuming, but it's something that we figure instead of the check coming back to us and then us having to re-send it and we figured we would be the ones doing that work.

Jane:

But that's basically what we do here.

Alyse Braaten:

Awesome. Thank you, Jane. All right. Next up, so I know Ilsa.

Ilsa:

All righty. So there is three points that I wanted to make that earlier. We talked about checks and students regard. So students don't typically know what the check process is, which can create problems down the line. So right now we're starting to include orientations where we'll discuss this and the process of how we'll mail the physical check and how it can take maybe 4 to 6 week weeks for that college to actually cash that check.

Ilsa:

So just them having a more thorough understanding helps us and also like we can reach out to them if, if their award hasn't yet been applied. And then as to check for the status of checks, there is a report you can build in C-suite. However, I do know at times that can be slightly, slightly lagging behind the actual time it gets applied.

Ilsa:

So there their option is for you to check within your bank portal.

Alyse Braaten:

All right. Should we move into our tips section? Because we all have these secret tips, those little things that we do that help make this relationship run more smoothly. I will share one of mine. We had a good portion of our scholarships, went to our local university, and those financial aid officers all got Starbucks for me once a year.

Alyse Braaten:

And I would come with this giant thing of Starbucks and I would talk to everybody and bring all the coffee. And they answered my phone calls and responded to my emails later. So a little bit of bribery went a long way in that situation. I was very lucky to have the local university there that I had good relationship with.

Alyse Braaten:

But yes, there's one of my tips. Should you have that opportunity can be great. What other tips do we have? And this might be something that just worked really well for you this last cycle that you can share out, because it might be something that no one else has thought of yet.

Ilsa:

So what is great is that Foundant keeps utilizing more functionality within like SLM. And so now you can basically drag or do a data dump with all the applications, say in your submitted bucket. And if you add filters in Excel, you can look for specific portions like say if you have a release form that requires an adult signature, but their birthday still indicates they're a minor and they did not answer that correctly.

Ilsa:

That might be something you can push to draft. So there's a different shorthand they can use with that. And also now you can create a merge template that just brings in all the attachments for an individual. So say if you're reviewing transcripts, you'll have it all in one place instead of having to go into each application. And it's just a time saver.

Amy:

So I actually have a follow up question that previous speaker was mentioning, being able to, you know, run the attachments and work with them as a batch as opposed to. So I would love any information that could be put in the chat about exactly how you do that. Is that an export or a report of some sort or because we neither we are familiar with that tool.

Amy:

So that would be great. Yeah, that tip that I was going to mention.

Alyse Braaten:

And I'm looking on Suport Hub right now to see if there's an article, but it's just our merge template feature that you can pull in and the the downloads or the documents are part or just a merge field that you would say, I want to pull this in. So I'm looking to see to get some how to build a merge template, how to set.

Alyse Braaten:

I'll pop it to the tab.

Amy:

Thank you.

Alyse Braaten:

The actual support is really great with those types of questions. So as you start doing it, if you're having any problems, it's not working. We expect support is very used to answering merge template questions.

Amy:

Awesome. The reason I raised my hand was to share a tip that when we communicate kind of relates to some of the previous conversation. When we communicate our scholarship offers, we use the language that they're receiving a scholarship offer for up to a certain dollar amount. And it pertains to all these conversations we've been having about maybe having to modify the dollar amount on the basis of other scholarship awards or financial aid or other things that they're going to receive from their institutions.

Amy:

So that helps us when we have to have those difficult conversations about potentially reducing their offer from the foundation based on the information we collect from them on the follow up form.

Ilsa:

So there is two things I wanted to mention. So I do not know how many other people use text messaging platforms, but either you could do email through back in SLM, or you could do text messaging that you can send that to a student when their scholarship is complete. And then also when you the day email their checks.

Ilsa:

So that's just it helps like them like think about when their checks might arrive. And then the other point I was going to mention is that we it is labor intensive or time intensive, I should say, is that we can create an academic calendar for students that are renewable students. So they tell us what school they're hoping or planning to attend.

Ilsa:

And usually websites will update this information around late October, early November. But we also stipulate that this might not be the most accurate information, but that we try to get the most accurate information. And it will just include like days that their campus is closed during winter, which is a very big deal for when they're trying to get transcripts for the following spring semester.

Lauren Rennie:

There's a lot of communication or chats around notifying students of when payments are going to be going out. There are some ideas of screenshots and putting it in the emails because you know, wants to see us. I'm always a CSM. There is a site setting that you can choose to turn on. It's one that you have access to called View Applicant Details on the dashboard.

Lauren Rennie:

And what that allows is basically the students would save you details next to their approved status and then that would essentially take them to the installment form. So if you do pay pretty on on target with what your installment dates are, that can be really, really helpful that they can just access that. See, you can put that information into their acceptance form.

Lauren Rennie:

You can put that, you know, just click on this link into an automatic email that you're sending to them. If you wait like I did, I verified enrollment with the schools prior to sending check. So that date was not accurate and that one actually got me into trouble with students. So I did turn it off. So if you do tend to send pretty close to that settlement date, it's really helpful.

Lauren Rennie:

If not, it can confuse the students. I have done CSMing now. I just had to. I couldn't help myself and also lots of really great questions about that. 529

Alyse Braaten:

Yeah, great questions about the 529 plan. I would love to see if we can get a campus post going about 529 because that is a forever topic for not just for our scholarship folks in the in this space with us, but also for other just parents who happen to also be Foundant users.

Alyse Braaten:

I could see that search a 529 plan. If they haven't thought to look for it, they should because again, they're going to get that background information on those things. So let's get that Compass post going on the 529 BE and tastic. Let's see here. I do want to ask pointedly this last question before we wrap up for the day is what do you wish someone had told you about working with colleges and universities to think back to your early days and scholarships?

Alyse Braaten:

Why do you like why didn't anybody tell me x I feel like this is a a place that a lot of us have been in. Wishing that someone had told us some things. Lauren do you have anything that comes to mind? Why didn't anybody tell me?

Lauren Rennie:

Yeah, I. I thought probably all have learned that with universities, you've got your good contacts and your less than.

Lauren Rennie:

Than helpful contacts, but you are more of an advocate for a student than you ever think that you would be working with universities. And that's the whole point, really, at the end of the day around this coffee talk is how can we make this better and get the money to the students that need it? And that was something that I just thought, Oh, no, the universities can be super great.

Lauren Rennie:

All of them know what they're doing. They know what I'm trying to do. And that wasn't the case. And I just learned much more that I needed to be more clear in my letters, more communication with the with context, personal touches, with the contacts like you talked about before, calling them so they know who I am, what I'm trying to achieve that I did not see coming is the personal relationships that I would create with my contacts in the financial aid offices so I could advocate for the students.

Alyse Braaten:

Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. That one hits home for me as well. I see Ilsa chat it in here. Mailing addresses for scholarships via FedEx can differ from at for UPS. Yeah. Like the whole world around finding the right address for a scholarship. Yeah is interesting because I think as a student, as a student you just know to walk to the financial aid office, but you never think about what the mailing address is for that office versus that office versus your professor's office.

Alyse Braaten:

And this is the space where you start to have to think about those things.

Lauren Rennie:

The vet said that they truly shut down for 2 to 3 weeks at the holidays. They're not. There.

Lauren Rennie:

That was a Oh, I better get it out now. This is my window

Alyse Braaten:

because it is going to be a ghost town after that.

Lauren Rennie:

Yeah, it was a lot lighter off. Get your grades in now or else you're not going to get them until after the break is over. That was a big one of letting students know. You know, they really do shut down just like you're out there. They're not there.

Julia:

I'm with Triangle Community Foundation, but what I meant about the do not purge request. So yeah, I don't know, like, you know, communicating with university is can be hard but also the mail can mess stuff up for years. It's, you know, you can send 20 checks out at one time to the same school on the same day and you know, only 18 of them show up and two other students are just kind of looming in the ether.

Julia:

And so I have found it really helpful. And I'll just say that my volume of checks that goes out in July every year is about 100 780 students, let's say, and a lot of them go to our local universities. So I will say, like the bulk of them are going to, you know, the big state schools in the area and the community colleges.

Julia:

So I don't have this long list of, you know, 150 schools I'm sending it to, but I will email them. And I just pull like a report that says, you know, with the students name and the student number and the scholarship, they're receiving. And I pop that chart in an email and I have like a base template that I'm like, Hey, I'm from Triangle Community Foundation.

Julia:

These students are getting a scholarship, but it's being mailed now or mid-July or whenever you're sending the checks. If you have any issues, let me know. And that's been really helpful because people will respond to me and be like, Hey, all of these students, except for this one, are registered like this one student's not even registered. So even if that student filled out our information form and has confirmed with me, the school is actually telling me that they haven't signed up like, hey, don't send this check yet or Hey, you might get a refund.

Julia:

So that's been really helpful and makes it so that if something is running late or kind of wonky, it's not affecting the students classes because I don't know about other places, but it seems like a lot of the schools in our area have earlier, some of them have earlier deadlines and others, for one, they'll purge all of the students classes if it's not paid on time.

Julia:

And I definitely do that to our students. So that's what I mean by do not purge. Yeah.

Alyse Braaten:

Absolutely. One of the other things that I've had that email kind of save or highlight for me in the past is that a student input their student ID number incorrectly. So they are there, they are registered, but they're they, you know, inverted numbers on their student I.D. And so they're not being picked up or that they use a fairly different name on their college application versus what they're using on their scholarship application.

Alyse Braaten:

So like a little bit of research clears that up, but you never would have known and it would have been a larger hassle closer to that purge date. So yeah, that in advance communication is hugely helpful. Great. Thank you all so much for joining us. And with that, we will go ahead and sign off for the day. Bye y'all

Lauren Rennie:

Thanks everybody.

Lucy Rosenthal:

And that was our discussion. New episodes of Connected Philanthropy are released every other Monday, so be sure to subscribe to hear more conversations like this. Join other members of the philanthropic community at community.foundant.com. From all of us here Foundant. Thank you for listening.