Interview with Brent Benner, VP of Enrollment at the University of Tampa


How do you see the upcoming PPY changes affecting the University of Tampa?

Prior-prior-year changes will affect different universities in different ways, but I believe that it's going to reduce summer melt at University of Tampa. The good thing about PPY is that it's going to extend the window when students and parents can analyze true college affordability. It will allow them to realistically plan and figure out whether they can afford the university. 
 
Across the country today, the average financial aid package comes out on March 21st. Students have from then until May 1st to accept their admissions offer. Choosing a college is arguably one of the most impactful decisions that anyone can make, and until now these students have been forced to choose their school in five or six weeks. Compare that to the six months students and parents will have with the PPY change to analyze costs, compare and contrast schools, and figure out alternative means of funding from loans, grants, and work-study. The way the system works today is that families have to scramble. 
 
When students have this extra time to be sure of their decision, I predict we'll see a major decrease in summer melt. It's a helpful change in terms of retention as well, since those students will have had significant time to lock in and commit to their university. We may even see graduation rates increase as a result. This is not to say that financial challenges won't occur for students, but that extra few months of planning will make all the difference in the world. 
 
This is where the type of university comes into play. Universities that have greater financial aid packages will likely have increased yields, while less affordable universities may see lower yields. It's going to put pressure on colleges who do not offer good net price calculators on their websites. We take great pride in ours, because we feel it's important for parents and students to understand if the university will be an affordable option. Also universities who have traditionally delayed admission may struggle keeping students engaged in the period between their acceptance and their arrival on campus. 

What does this mean for students at the high school level?

From a student perspective the real burden will be to apply earlier. If they don’t have their documents filled out, they will miss the advantage of being able to apply early. 
 
High school college counselors historically counsel kids on academic fit and feel fit, but not financial fit. This third element, even though it's of equal to greater importance, wasn't accessible to counselors until now. This change is going to bring parents to the table, where before high school counselors traditionally only spoke to students. Counselors will have to teach students and parents about how to use net price calculators, and navigate tricky conversations about financial fit.

What trends do you anticipate as a result of offering earlier acceptances?

At University of Tampa, we've historically been admitting students early. Our admissions schedule starts in September with non-binding early action applications. Using predictive modeling, we market this option to students who meet the characteristics of our previous successful graduates. We offer these decisions by December 15th if students have met the deadlines. Traditionally by February, we are already waitlisting. Every university has a different calendar, but it's only recently that I've started to see more schools begin to offer non-binding early action offers. It's likely that we'll see a shift towards earlier launch dates and rolling admissions schedules as the PPY takes effect.
 
Early merit offers will also become more meaningful because students will have access to their FAFSA information when they receive them. Sending out scholarship letters with the acceptance letter will become more commonplace. At University of Tampa, we're going to be offering financial aid packages to students whose parents have completed the FAFSA on October 5th.

How does University of Tampa offer support to admitted students going through this process?

This change opens up a lot of windows for universities to be creative. At University of Tampa, only 25% of our students are from Florida. 15% are international, and the remainder come from the whole rest of the country. Our average student studies here 900 miles from home.
 
To reach our accepted students, we hold admitted student receptions in major metro areas all across the country. I try to bring about eight students with me to these events to share stories from a cross-section of student experience. Before the event, we let all of our accepted students know that we will have a financial aid counselor with us and senior level admissions officers. If families have completed the FAFSA, we commit to sending their financial aid package before the reception. 
 
At the reception, we have our financial aid counselors and admissions officers sit down briefly with each interested family to go over the package and answer their questions. I empower my staff to make up to $4000 in changes on a student's package if they see a true need and if the student is a good fit. If students are clearly unable to afford a University of Tampa education, we often counsel them on delaying their timeline by attending a community college or more affordable option first. PPY gives us more time to be able to reach those students and provide them the right support in making their decision.
 
With PPY, families will have packages even earlier. We could have financial aid counselors and admissions officers counsel students on their packages at open houses or other admitted student events earlier in the year. 

What's next?

The next step should be creating a rule around one-time FAFSA filing. For all of the students who complete a FAFSA, only 6-7% of the students have EFC changes that warrant a change in their aid. This is incredibly inefficient to have 94% of students complete a FAFSA every year for no reason at all. Cutting down on bureaucracy would save the college time and money that could be passed along to the students. There are obviously some wrinkles to this idea, but there are solutions to those wrinkles. 


Brent Benner

Brent Benner is Director of Enrollment Management at The University of Tampa. He also served as Director of Admissions at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, IL and has previously taught in the Department of Psychology at Northern Illinois University. Brent was founder and President of Benner & Aló, a firm specializing in education and career counseling of professional athletes. Brent has counseled hundreds of professional athletes across all major sports and has implemented career counseling programs for NFL teams and the Professional Hockey Player's Association. He has spoken at national conferences on the issues of university minority recruitment, STEM preparation/recruitment, financial aid reform, managing college cost, as well as career transition of athletes. Brent also has served on scholarship review committees for the Chicago Urban League, Phi Theta Kappa and Educational Testing Services in Princeton, NJ.