Supporting Low-income Students

Perspective from Financial Aid Director

Marvin Smith, Executive Director 
Student Financial Services 

"We have opened the doors to higher education," says Cathy Buyarski, of IUPUI. The struggle with poverty "is a societal issue that has come into the college environment."
--Chronicle of Higher Education, March 6, 2016

IUPUI is no different than other college campuses across the nation. Some of our students struggle with poverty. As director of student financial services, I know that we might have enough federal, state, and institutional financial aid programs to help our low-income students pay for tuition and fees, but we might not have enough financial aid programs to help some students pay for basic living expenses.

What can IUPUI as an institution do to support our low-income student success? What can IUPUI faculty and staff do to help? A group of IUPUI faculty and staff have been trying to address this question.

The Indianapolis-based Lumina Foundation’s Beyond Financial Aid (BFA) initiative has served as a framework to guide the development of some work that has occurred over the past year. Essentially, BFA expands the concept of financial aid beyond grants, scholarships, and loans and describes six college-tested strategies to improve support of low-income students.

  1. Know the low-income students at your institution.
  2. Provide support to help low-income students overcome practical barriers to enrollment success.
  3. Leverage external partnerships for service delivery on campus.
  4. Empower low-income students to use available resources.
  5. Review internal processes that may have unintended negative impacts (e.g., academic, financial) on low-income students.
  6. Implement effective practices to strengthen the academic progression of all students.

I recently had the opportunity to discuss some of that work at the IUPUI Council for Retention and Graduation meeting. I have also had the privilege of seeing first-hand how passionate IUPUI faculty and staff are about low-income student success. More than one hundred persons of our faculty and staff came to the first seminar last May!

Some exciting ideas and initiatives have emerged. For example, a proposed virtual social services center for IUPUI students is in the works and may be available as early as January 2017. The site will be a place for students to review referral resources and ways to obtain more information on a variety of social service topics. The development of the proposed website and content will be guided by the School of Social Work students led by Dr. Carolyn Gentle-Genitty.

This partnership with the world-class School of Social Work is an example of the IUPUI spirit of collaboration. A steering committee led by Associate Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Management Dr. Boyd Bradshaw will continue to guide initiatives and partnerships aimed at improving low-income student success at IUPUI. Members of the steering committee will represent a cross-section of leadership across the campus.

I recognize we need more than a new website to promote low-income student success at IUPUI. But I believe that IUPUI faculty and staff passion for helping low income and first-generation college students is in the DNA of IUPUI’s history and institutional mission. We know we transform lives and families and generations. There is no doubt that higher education can break the cycle of poverty. And, we owe it to our students to do all we can to help.

I hope faculty and staff will continue to be engaged regarding this topic as we move forward. I welcome your input and ideas that I can share with the steering committee. Feel free to email me at

Published Fall 2016