News & Blog

January 15, 2020

Institutional Grants are coming to Pennsylvania Private Licensed Schools

Institutional Grants are coming to Pennsylvania Private Licensed Schools

After January 27, Act 110 of 2019 goes into effect. One aspect of this Bill ushers in an important new era for Pennsylvania Private Licensed Schools. For the first time in history, these schools will be allowed to award various types of institutional grants to their students. While this practice has been used and abused by traditional higher education institutions for decades, Pennsylvania based private licensed schools have been unable to freely award such grants without the oversight and approval of the Private Licensed School Board.

Private Licensed Schools now have the ability to use this powerful tool to increase enrollment, shape their student classes, minimize student debt, and compete in a free marketplace on a level playing field. However, as with many tools, when used improperly, they can quickly turn into weapons of self-destruction.

Quite simply, institutional grant programs provide funds to students from institutional resources. These grants reduce the amount a student needs to pay and consequently often reduces the amount a student needs to borrow. Additionally, it reduces the amount of funds an institution receives from a particular student. Many traditional colleges and universities have used and expanded these programs as incentives to attract students.

For some institutions, every single student will receive at least one form of institutional grant. As such, no student at these schools will ever pay the full tuition, or sticker price, to attend. For private licensed schools, I do not believe this should be the case.

Institutional grant programs are generally based either on merit or financial need. Programs can be as diverse and creative as the schools and the student population. If a school is looking to attract recent high school graduates who were academically successful, the school could consider a grant that awards funds to all high school graduates with a GPA over 3.5. A program can be geared towards attracting students who were recently part of a plant closure in the community or students that have significant financial need.

A grant program can also consider using contests for projects or essays that increase engagement and competition throughout the process. The opportunities are endless and the key to success is planning and implementing the right program for the institution.

There are five distinct phases of administering a successful institutional grant program:

1) Define your goals – An institutional grant program may have a single goal or multiple connected or independent goals. These goals should be specific to the individual institution and relate to the mission. While the overarching goal may be to increase overall enrollment, goals should be specific with respect to the types of students who will be successful at an institution, the educational programs the institution wishes to impact, and the overall institutional community.

2) Create your grant program – Start small. Create one or two specifically defined grant programs based on your goals.

3) Market your program – This includes everything from updating your web site, training admissions staff, communicating with high school counselors and local career links, etc.

4) Assess the results – While the impact of the programs will not be finalized for several months or even years, there are leading indicators that will tell you if you are having an impact. Have defined time frames for assessing the impact.

5) Modify the programs – Institutional grant programs are a combination of art and science. Based on the assessments, be prepared to modify each grant program. Sometimes small tweaks can have significant impacts.

Starting an intuitional grant program is exciting and can add energy and purpose to your school. Don’t be afraid to be bold; use creativity to enhance your mission as well as your brand.

It can also be scary. One of the things I often hear is that “we are going to be giving away funds to students who would have attended our institution anyway”. This is an absolute fact. However, if structured appropriately, the benefits will far outweigh the costs. A well-administered institutional grant program is one of the best returns on investment a school can make. If you are awarding a significant amount of grants, it should be the result of attracting a significant number of new students.

Finally, keep in mind that institutional grant programs need to be well defined and transparent in the awarding of institutional funds.

Greg DeFeo is a consulting manager with the advisory services division of Wilke & Associates, CPAs & Business Advisors. Greg has over twenty years of executive leadership experience in career focused education administration. In addition to helping schools develop and implement institutional aid programs, he works with schools on strategic planning, ownership transitions, and non-profit conversions. Read more about Greg on his LinkedIn profile.

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