Pullias Center for Higher Education

Pullias Center for
Higher Education
Los Angeles, CA
The Pullias Center for Higher Education at the University of Southern California
plans to develop an app to assist with financial aid understanding and reminders.
Program Description: We offer 3 programs with embedded financial capability programs. Increasing Access via Mentoring program is an intense 1-on-1 mentoring model providing students with critical support leading to college admission & financial aid. I AM mentors provide assistance with interpreting
students’ financial aid awards & making plans to pay for college, including financial planning. The I AM
program takes a ‘hands-on’ approach where each ‘mentor’ works with 1-3 students for a total of 3-4 hours/
month from September through June. In July, another student cohort enters the SummerTIME program,
which focuses on college writing & college & financial aid knowledge during the critical summer after
senior year of high school by working 1-on-1 with students to refine their financial aid awards and financial planning goals. We have a financial aid based video game, Graduate Strike Force, for middle and
high school students to experience college choice, financial aid offer letters, and postgraduate options.
Proposed Innovation: Funding from this grant will allow us to complete the design and launch a free
financial aid tracking phone based app which will allow students to interface with managing their financial aid process from the time of application through to the acceptance of a financial aid offer, and
onto managing aid throughout the completion of their bachelor’s degree. At this time, there is no outside application or software that allows pre-college or college students to manage their financial aid. The
app will serve two purposes. First, it will manage the process as described above. Second, it will “push
out” personalized reminders to students to move forward in the process. The app will offer real time
accurate information and be scaffolded by the one on one mentoring that students in this program receive. It is possible to see how this app would be of interest to pre-college and college students beyond
those who participate in our programs. If awarded this grant, we can test and reframe that app so that is
can be scalable beyond our current audience. Our initial app will also be able to translate into Spanish.
Reason for Change: We would like to make the change described above because we know from over a decade of working with low income college aged students that access to accurate and just in time financial aid
information is an important factor in their decision to attend and stay in college. Financial aid is a highly
personalized experience and our app design can maintain personalization and extend the 1 on 1 mentoring
service that we currently provide. We draw upon research from our center, including the work of Kristan
Venegas which has focused on internet interfaces and financial aid since 2006, as well as research by Pat
McDonough (UCLA) and Shannon Calderone (University of Denver that suggests that academic counselors lack financial aid information and time needed to support students as they seek financial aid. We also
draw upon research from Sara Goldrick-Rab (University of Wisconsin, Madison) who has also found that
lack of financial aid knowledge is a barrier to college completion. Finally, we ground the feasibility of this
type of phone based app on the Pew Center’s study of the US and the Internet which found that low income Latino and Black students are most likely to use their phones to access the Internet for information.