On December 5 WSAC and CSF hosted a virtual panel of financial aid experts from Western Washington University, Olympic College, and Eastern Washington University to talk about recommended practices for supporting Passport scholars. Here are five tips that were discussed in that webinar:
- Designate a single financial aid team member to advise all Passport scholars. A key to serving Passport scholars effectively is building trusting relationships. Designating one financial aid advisor as the point person for all Passport scholars on campus can help support strong, consistent scholar relationships, especially when that person is able to conduct in-person financial aid reviews to ensure students have all the information and resources they need.
- Know your Passport scholars’ life circumstances and make adjustments to account for their real expenses. This example came up in the webinar: a student attending a 2-year college lives with their former foster parents. Is their Cost of Attendance (COA) set at the rate for students living at home, or living independently? Heidi Townsend, Director of Financial Aid at Olympic College shared that in this situation, due to the students’ circumstances as a former foster youth, Olympic staff would likely apply the independent living adjustment even though the student lives with former caregivers. This is justifiable based on the fact that a student in this situation is not “living at home” in the same sense as a student from an intact family, and they are likely to have different resource needs. These types of examples crop up all the time with Passport scholars – on the surface the situation may appear to fit one criteria, but when you understand the situation more deeply, certain adjustments to the COA may not only be justifiable, but necessary for the student to continue their studies.
- Using a team approach is critical. The importance of teaming and communication came up over and over again with the panel. Dina Murphy and Emmanuel Camarillo, the FAA and DSS from WWU, shared that this was a specific point of emphasis on their campus because they know that students’ financial needs are dynamic. When students encounter barriers, Dina and Emmanuel work together to support students and ensure aligned communication and action. This coordinated approach can both solve challenges for the student and prevent unintended negative consequences such as giving the student inaccurate or conflicting information. Dina and Emmanuel make a point of having regular coordination meetings to check in about Passport scholars so that when urgent needs arise they can respond quickly.
- Be aware of third party payments and coordinate benefits appropriately. Passport scholars are often eligible for an array of third party financial resources such as ETV, emergency “just-in-time” funding from non-profit agencies, Extended Foster Care maintenance payments, and more. Challenges can arise when these resources are provided to a scholar, but the proper notification is not given to financial aid staff. Worst case, this can lead to over-awarding and significant debt for the student. Scholars should be educated as early as possible about their responsibilities when it comes to notifying financial aid staff about third party payments, and FAAs and DSSs should be aware of the third party resources that are used most to support Passport scholars on their campus.
- Leverage professional discretion. There is no getting around it – the lives of Passport scholars are complex and gray areas with respect to financial aid are bound to arise. Carla Idol-Corwin from WSAC emphasized that institutions should use their professional discretion to make specific determinations for Passport scholars. At the same time, WSAC and CSF are working to document practices that are working, and will continue to facilitate training and discussions on this subject.
Watch the full webinar on the WPN YouTube channel