The Hope Center

Research Findings

For decades, complicated financial aid formulas and variable sticker prices have made it difficult for students to understand the real price of college. For colleges, understanding students’ financial need is also challenging; current financial aid formulas cause many students’ actual need to be understated.

This report examines what happens when:

  • financial aid leaders and staff better understand students’ financial need, as operationalized by negative EFC; and
  • students better understand college costs and how to advocate for more financial support.

Using data gathered at Temple University and six colleges and universities in Texas, we explore how more nuanced information about college costs and financial need can change beliefs and behavior among financial aid staff, leaders, and students.

Our research reveals:

  1. Informational barriers affect both students and college staff:
    • Students struggle to get information about the real price of college.
    • Financial aid staff tend to know about emergency aid and food pantry programs at their college, but tend to know less about other non-tuition supports.
    • Staff knowledgeable about non-tuition supports more often refer students to them.
  2. Informational interventions can help students and staff overcome these barriers:
    • A short video and presentation can help students understand the cost of attendance (COA), non-tuition supports, and the financial aid appeals process.
    • A presentation and resources on negative Expected Family Contribution (EFC) can shift administrators’ understanding of key financial aid concepts and help them make better use of financial aid data.