WHEN A Group Presentation ISN'T ENOUGH: FINANCIAL AID ADVISING FOR LOW-INCOME URBAN COLLEGE-BOUND STUDENTS

Article excerpt

Group presentations are the common ways to communicate information about financial aid to high school students. This article discusses the value of group presentation and suggests that additional techniques should supplement this approach, especially in the case of low-income urban college-bound students.

Group presentations are an easy way to reach large groups of students and parents at one time (Kennedy, Oliverez and Tierney 2007). When group presentations are well done, they increase students' and families' knowledge of the financial aid process. In their finest forms, group presentations provide information and build students' and their families' confidence as they navigate the financial aid process. At the same time, group presentations are not enough to meet the needs of students with the most complicated financial aid situations. Unfortunately, students and families in difficult circumstances may continue to be the least appropriately served. In this article, we share findings related to group presentations on financial aid - related topics, focusing specifically on the questions that students and their parents asked at these meetings, when they asked them, and how presenters responded to the queries. An amalgamated version of observation notes might look like this:

November 2003, 2004, 200s, or 2006: The researcher attends a group presentation at school X, Y, and/or Z. An informed financial aid practitioner attempts to explain the entire financial aid application and decision-making process in about an hour. A few handouts summarize either a PowerPoint presentation or notes written on a chalkboard. A Web site visit or short testimonial video may be used as part of the demonstration. At the end of the session, the presenter invites questions.

The question- and- answer period frequently begins with a few moments of silence. The college counselor may help get things started by posing a question of her own. Only rarely does the authence ask more than 4 or s questions. In response to a very specific question, for example, "What happens if my uncle has savings that he wants to give mei Do I have to put that on the FAFSA?" the presenter typically asks the student to see her after the session because she needs more information. The answer to the question is not beard by tbe entire group.

When the session is over, the rush begins: Students, parents, and sometimes the college counselor create a line to the presenter, waiting to talk about their 'personal situations. Presenters know to expect the onslaught of individual questions and often plan 'about another half an hour' after tbe meeting to make sure these questions are answered. Students may plan to follow up after the session, but few actually do. The presenter is unlikely to return to tbe school until tbe following year.

The scenario described above is fairly typical of most financial aid group presentations: There is always a presenter, and there are usually handouts. (In most cases, the information provided is accurate and is intended to be useful.) The presentations are an extension of the current focus on using mass communication techniques, including social marketing (Mundel and Coles 2004) and largescale informational events (Davis and Erisman 2006). Although these approaches are valuable, we suggest that while the process is crucial to informing outcomes (informational "blitzes" are helpful), it is not sufficient for lowincome students as they navigate the financial aid process for the first time.

FINANCIAL AID APPLICATIONS WERE OUTCOME ORIENTED AND PROCESS DRIVEN

Past research on financial aid has been more outcome oriented than process driven (Tierney and Venegas in press). Researchers have continued to focus on the challenges that low-income student populations face in gaining access to college and financial aid. Low-income students face a number of potential barriers, including lack of adequate academic preparation (Perna 2007; Perna and Swail 2001), debt aversion (Burdman 2005; ECMC 2003), and lack of counselor support (McDonough and Calderone 200e). …