Date of Conferral
Public Policy and Administration
At many traditional universities, the federal timelines for determining financial aid eligibility is based on releasing of the Free Application of Federal Student Aid each January, and the subsequent financial aid processing cycle July 1- June 30th. These federally established dates can conflict with traditional August class starts and creates a backlog and delayed processing of information that, in turn, hinders students from receiving timely information in order to make informed decisions based on financial aid awards. The purpose of this case study of a traditional university in Georgia was to apply net price theory and rational choice theory to evaluate the impact of timeline conflicts and how students make decisions about which institution to attend. Data consisted of internal documents, including the results of a prior survey of 425 freshmen, and 13 alumni focus group and survey participants. All data were inductively coded and analyzed using a constant comparative method to reveal key themes. Key findings indicated decision making by prospective students largely focused on accurate and timely communication and cost of attendance. One discrepant area was the decision maker's ability to differentiate between cost of attendance and net price which impacted some student decisions to enroll. The findings are consistent with both net price and rational choice theory. Recommendations to university leaders include encouraging early communication to prospective students and retraining efforts for financial aid staff in order to meet regulatory demands and timelines, increase student enrollment, and reduce anxieties for potential students and families associated with the financial aid process. These outcomes enhance social change by potentially opening doors to higher education for new generations of students.