Central State University (CSU) Director of Financial Aid Sonia Slomba shares her thoughts on the ABCs of student finance—improving accessibility, reducing student borrowing, and driving down the cost of administration—at this Ohio-based HBCU in this four-part blog series.
It’s no secret: Higher education costs money. For Slomba it’s the biggest hurdle in the ABCs of student finance. “If you look at the cost of college, it has gone up at a different rate than financial aid,” she explains.
Innovation Costs Money
Colleges understand this gap, but it creates the need for a tedious balancing act. Higher education institutions want—and need—to provide students the best education and experience possible, while keeping costs low.
CSU is competitive in terms of innovation and technology. Just look to its new $35 million University Student Center as proof. But those kinds of improvements cost money, and Slomba says the school is always looking for ways to avoid passing those costs on to students.
Keeping Administrative Costs Low
One solution is to keep an eye on administrative costs. It’s estimated that higher education administration costs have outpaced spending on instruction—and inflation—for the past 20 years or so. Slomba adds that though CSU watches administrative spending, the Financial Aid Office is always kept well-staffed. “They understand the importance of what we do and our importance to the institution,” she says.
As an 1890 land-grant university, CSU receives federal support. It’s currently expanding its STEAM programming and partnerships with the agricultural industry. “It may not be sexy right now because no one wants to be a farmer, but it’s so much more than that,” Slomba says, explaining that an engineer could create a machine that ultimately will make farming easier.
Student retention is another important piece of the puzzle. Some of the school’s state funding is dependent on student retention, so CSU works hard to keep students in school and to help them graduate. It doesn’t “front-load” assistance, but instead provides incentives for students to do well each year.
“We make it so that if a student shows up and does well, they have the opportunity to get more aid. If they do have a scholarship, and they don’t do well academically, they can lose their funding,” Slomba explains. “We tie academics with funding because it’s their job to do well. To learn to think, and to become productive members. We hold them accountable for that.”
Of course, there is overall systemic change needed to address college costs. A big part of that is the need for more grant money, Slomba explains. She has her own wish for higher education, too. “I would like to see a federal work-study program—something that would both provide students a hands-on learning experience and keep college costs down,” she explains. “I think that would be, in many ways, revolutionary.”