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October 6, 2021

Managing a Successful Scholarship Program: Lessons from the National Scholarship Providers Association and Its Members

By Erika Orsulak, Special Projects Consultant for the NSPA

Scholarships provide College Promise programs with an effective way to support students’ access to--and progress through--their higher education journeys.

The National Scholarship Providers Association (NSPA), the membership association for 700-plus scholarship providers across the United States and Canada, in partnership with College Promise, offers the below ideas to Promise programs wanting to administer high-quality scholarship programs.

Scholarship Program Intent

As with any Promise program or educational initiative, when developing a scholarship program, start with the end in mind. What do you hope to accomplish with your efforts?

The answer(s) to that question will determine which students to support and how best to support them. It will also help you to define program specifics, such as the resources required, activities to pursue, and potential benefits to recipients. Programmatic intent will also inform development of your evaluative work, so that you can track progress towards your purpose.

Scholarship Program Administration

Most scholarship providers divide their administrative efforts among four key phases of the scholarship lifecycle: recruitment, application, selection, and awarding.

  • Recruitment: Thoughtful recruitment can yield a robust pool of qualified applicants. When messaging and marketing, consider your program intent and who your ideal candidates might be. Then tailor your content and communications (including images) accordingly. Share information about your program with groups or organizations that serve the types of students you’re looking to support.
  • Application: In your application, include questions that collect must-have demographic and educational data as well as those that generate information that help determine the strength of an applicant’s fit with the scholarship opportunity. Consider the applicant’s user experience as you’re designing your forms and questions. Ensure that your application length and complexity is appropriate to the award a student might receive and not overly burdensome.
  • Selection: Scholar selection should reflect program intent. Your selection criteria and tools--such as rubrics or scorecards--should allow reviewers to assess how applicants compare to your ideal recipients. Ensure that your selection committees include numerous members with experiences similar to those you intend to serve. Educate members to be as objective as possible in the selection process, and address issues such as conflict of interest and bias in their training.
  • Awarding: The size and scope of awards depend in part on what you hope to accomplish. With your impact in mind, define which expenses the scholarship will cover and at what maximum cost to determine a meaningful award amount. Either disburse award payments directly from your organization or outsource that aspect of scholarship administration to another organization, such as your local community foundation or a mission-aligned public charity.

Scholarship Program Accountability

Any entities that provide scholarships must abide by relevant federal, state, and local laws governing scholarship provision. Such regulations include student records release and retention, IRS reporting, and more. NSPA recommends that organizations consult their legal counsel and tax attorneys for advice specific to their organizational type and activities.

In addition, your organization should adhere to the highest ethical standards in scholarship provision. In particular, ensure ethical conduct in the areas of student information collection and protection, conflict of interest, bias, equity, and selection. Document policies, procedures, and examples of exceptions to such rules.

Program evaluation can provide further accountability. Develop a framework for collecting and analyzing information about program activities and outcomes. Use that information to track progress towards identified goals (and pivot as needed).

NSPA: A Resource for Your Promise Program’s Scholarship Programming

Is your Promise program looking to create new scholarship opportunities, or fine-tune existing ones? NSPA hosts a robust community of scholarship providers and offers a wealth of resources on program planning, implementation, and accountability. Contact us today to learn more about membership and how NSPA can support your program in its scholarship work.

Also please consider attending the upcoming NSPA ADAPT 2021 Conference event, which includes the #BecauseWeWill Campaign: Inspiring the Next Generation of Learners and Workers session, hosted by College Promise leaders, and features over 80 other sessions and workshops hosted by experts in scholarship administration and college access. Register now to join us at NSPA ADAPT 2021.

Erika Orsulak, Special Projects Consultant for the NSPA

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