Scholarships in the Time of COVID-19: A Conversation with UW Madison

It’s no secret the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the face of scholarship management this year. Keith Brown, University of Wisconsin – Madison’s Assistant Director for Special Awards, and Alania Cater, Blackbaud’s Director of Product Management, were recently featured on the Changing Higher Ed podcast with Drumm McNaughton to share their insights on how the global pandemic has impacted scholarship management at institutions across the country and the long-term effects it will have moving forward 

Shifting priorities

In the podcast, Keith shared that UW-Madison has seen a significant shift toward supporting emergency funding on top of their regular scholarship funds. Their fundraising team got to work right away raising emergency funds to help students who were impacted financially by the pandemic. Once that money was raised, Keith and his team began making awards and disbursing the money to their students. Between CARES Act funds and emergency fundraising, they disbursed close to $10 million by the end of July. That is separate from the regular scholarship awarding season. This leads us to our next takeaway.  

Flexibility is key

Shifting priorities have affects all across campus which means that being flexible and agile is more important than ever. Due to the increase in funds to disburse and the shift to a virtual environment, many institutions are having to push their deadlines for scholarship applications, admissions, and more.  

Keeping their students top of mind, UW-Madison also made an effort to shift other campus funds around to help meet the needs of their students who were not eligible for CARES Act funding.  

Since meeting in person with students for scholarship interviews is off the table in most places, some institutions have begun offering alternative options to meet with students via zoom or by phone. Alania mentioned that many institutions who are doing this have said they’ll never go back to those in-person interviews. Alania also shared that many institutions are working with their donors to adjust scholarship requirements to be less strict, making them easier to disburse during this time.  

Virtual is the name of the game

And finally, going virtual is the name of the game. While many institutions were poised to make the leap to fully virtual, other institutions are quickly realizing that managing a paper scholarship process is no longer an option. From applications to awarding to reviewing, moving your scholarship process to a virtual setting is the most efficient way to meet the needs of your staff and students during this time.  

Going virtual does bring some added work on the front end. Finding ways to support your staff and students through the transition to virtual is important. Alania mentioned that many scholarship administrators now spend more time working with and training their reviewers to fully understand the virtual scholarship process. Setting them up for success is key to reaching your deadlines and ensuring funds are awarded appropriately. Keith shared that UW-Madison is providing extra support to their scholarship applicants via Zoom calls and an online phone system to ensure they don’t have any issues applying for scholarships. These additional steps are worth it in the long run to keep your scholarship process running smoothly and to meet your students’ greatest needs.  

To hear more, including Alania and Keith’s top three recommendations for institutions during this time, check out the Changing Higher Ed podcast!