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The Full Experience: Meeting Supplemental Financial Aid Needs

David Baker


on July 30, 2014

The Full Experience: Meeting Supplemental Financial Aid Needs

 We all go the extra mile to ensure that our financial aid students receive help with tuition (and room and board). But we also know that the cost of attending our schools exceeds these costs. At St. Mark’s School of Texas, we labor each year to establish an equitable, appropriate, and sustainable policy concerning supplemental financial aid expenses - things like athletic equipment, tutoring, school supplies, and even internet access and transportation. In short, items or services which are linked to the educational mission of the school, but not covered by tuition. While transparency about these costs and support for our students is important, the more significant issue is balancing the list of appropriate supplemental costs with available resources. Providing the full experience of our schools for our financial aid students is a delicate and challenging process and crafting a policy concerning supplemental assistance is important and continuous. Supplemental aid constitutes an increasing percentage of our total financial aid budget and I suspect we are not alone.

At St. Mark’s, we review and revise our supplemental assistance policy every summer and inevitably those revisions are revised again prior to the end of the school year. Creating a supplemental assistance policy is a process of deciding what kinds of expenses should be supplemented, and then prioritizing those expenses relative to available resources.

What types of supplemental expenses should be covered? Establishing broad categories (school supplies, tutoring, transportation etc.) is just the first step. Within each category, there may be appropriate and inappropriate expenses—for example, perhaps the cost of music lessons provided at school should be covered, but what about lessons taken outside of school? School supplies are necessary, but is there a reasonable limit to how many pencils a student needs? At St. Mark’s, we have tried to provide families with as much specificity as we can while remaining flexible concerning individual requests.

In general, St. Mark’s provides supplemental assistance for:

  • Supplies (notebooks, paper, pencils, etc.)
  • Tutoring (if recommended by St. Mark’s - and all tutors must be approved by St. Mark’s)
  • Online tutoring assistance (with a pre-approved vendor)
  • School-related trips
  • Athletic equipment for St. Mark’s teams (items not provided by the school)
  • Tickets to school activities
  • Outdoor program equipment for St. Mark’s programs (if not provided by the school)
  • Activity fees (sports, clubs, organizations, etc.)
  • Bus and rail transportation passes

Supplemental assistance is not provided for some specific items and any items that are not related to St. Mark’s. Some examples include:

  • Lessons (music, athletic, artistic, etc.) outside of school
  • Travel for programs not directly sponsored by St. Mark’s
  • Camps or enrichment programs that are not St. Mark’s-directed
  • Clothing not directly related to St. Mark’s events
  • Snacks or non-uniform clothing purchased in the Student Store
  • Booster items (buttons, pictures, parent dinners, etc.) associated with athletic teams

Again, no list can be complete, and we encourage families requesting supplemental assistance to contact us if they have questions or to request help with something not on the approved list.

What level of support should be provided? Resources for supplemental assistance are finite and it is not possible (or desirable) to fund everything. What types of supplemental costs are most important? While the answer will be different for every school, we prioritize these expenditures by our own perception of academic relevance. For example, while we will nearly always provide supplemental assistance for tutoring, we may not always be able to cover the costs associated with a school trip. A corollary issue concerns the amount or percentage of support provided to each student. For example, if a student receives tuition assistance equal to only five percent of the total amount of tuition, should that student also receive full supplemental assistance? At St. Mark’s, the amount of supplemental assistance provided is generally linked to the percentage of tuition assistance awarded. A student receiving 50% tuition assistance, for example, would be eligible for up to 50% of approved supplemental costs. However, we struggle with the notion that those families who receive very limited tuition assistance may in fact be less able to cover supplemental costs. Thus the process of thinking about and developing our own supplemental assistance policy is ongoing.

Finally, confidentiality is a challenging component of a supplemental assistance policy. Supplemental costs usually involve third parties not involved in the original financial aid award decision. For example, a payment from the Financial Aid Office to the Booster Club would identify the student as a recipient of financial aid. How can we provide supplemental assistance to our financial aid families while protecting the confidentiality of financial aid recipients? We encourage families to make payments (for approved items) directly to the vendor and then submit receipts to the Financial Aid Office for reimbursement. While the process is somewhat cumbersome, those families who need supplemental assistance and wish to remain anonymous are able to do so while others may request direct payment to vendors.

Managing the supplemental assistance needs of financial aid students requires deliberate thinking about what those needs are and the relative priority they should receive. Within the constraints of available resources, we all want our students to have the full experience of our schools and crafting a policy on supplemental assistance is an important step.

Resources

Funding the Total Cost of Attendance By: Mark J. Mitchell
Source: www.nais.org ·This piece was adapted from an address delivered to the Association of Independent Schools of Greater Washington's fall admission directors meeting, October 2001 and updated in August 2012 · ©2012 National Association of Independent Schools
http://www.nais.org/Articles/Pages/Funding-the-Total-Cost-of-Attendance.aspx

Anderson, Jenny."Admitted, but Left Out", The New York Times, October 19, 2012
A version of this article appears in print on October 21, 2012, on page MB1 of the New York edition with the headline: "Admitted, but Left Out."
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/21/nyregion/for-minority-students-at-elite-new-york-private-schools-admittance-doesnt-bring-acceptance.html?pagewanted=all