How are college financial aid decisions made? Some insight can be gleaned from a paper presented at the 2007 Frontiers in Education (FIE) Conference - Deriving Financial Aid Optimization Models from Admissions Data.
… Financial aid is used to achieve a number of enrollment objectives, including diversifying the student population, attracting strong students, and maximizing tuition revenue. While financial aid generally positively affects applicant enrollment decisions, the effect on the probability of enrollment varies across applicants….
Schools obtain as much information as possible from each applicant as this helps them predict how a particular student will react to a given level of financial aid offered. Schools gather data such as grades, test scores, financial resources, intended major, caliber of high school, extracurriculars, etc.
The expected tuition revenue from any given applicant who has been offered a particular amount of financial aid can be obtained by multiplying the probability of enrollment by the revenue obtained at that financial aid level. As the financial aid increases, the probability of enrollment increases but the tuition revenue decreases. So for each applicant there will be a financial aid offer that maximizes the expected revenue from that student. Our objective is to offer each student the amount of financial aid that maximizes tuition revenue, subject to capacity constraints. Developing such an optimization model requires first developing a predictive model that can determine for any given student the probability of enrollment for each level of financial aid offered.
The graph might look like this for a particular student, with a typically nonlinear relationship between probability of enrollment and financial aid.
Multiplying this curve by the linear relationship between percentage revenue and percentage financial aid generates the expected revenue at each level of financial aid.
For this particular applicant, the maximum expected revenue occurs when 50% financial aid is offered.
They’ve got your number, so to speak.
The goal is to get the most tuition revenue from the existing pool of applicants. Here’s how Mark Kantrowitz described the sophisticated enrollment management techniques colleges use to attract desirable students and maximize revenue.
“A lot of it is done by computer programs to calculate how much aid they need to offer to each student so they can get the maximum number of desirable students without going over their financial aid budget,” says Mark Kantrowitz, the publisher of FinAid.org and FastWeb.com.
Many regional and religious colleges, he says, also try to “optimize their revenue” by offering partial scholarships to the students who can pay the rest of the tuition — even “B” students with an SAT verbal and math score of 1200 or less. Caution: You’ll have to maintain a grade-point average of about 2.7 to 3.0 to renew most scholarships after your first year.