In PSYC 400 (Applied Research in Higher Education), most 4th year Undergraduate students in the course form groups and present weekly tutorials on instructional strategies to their colleagues. There are occasional exceptions to the assignment topics and recently one team of students developed an online module-based program to address a problem they found: the high cost of post-secondary education deters many students from attending, yet there are millions of scholarship dollars left unclaimed every year.
With support from the Dunin-Deshpande Queen's Innovation Centre (DDQIC), building on their class project, Adrianna Armstrong, Hannah Burrows, Alyssa Giovannangeli, Flo Nusselder, and Yanxin Xu are working to create an open-access educational resource that is free for high school students to build skills and knowledge related to accessing scholarship dollars.
“When originally discussing the financial inaccessibility of higher education in PSYC400: Applied Research in Higher Education, our group began brainstorming potential solutions that we would be able to facilitate and implement,” Adrianna recalls. “As we conducted more research, our ideas for potential solutions evolved. When we found out how much scholarship money went unclaimed each year, we believed that connecting students to this untapped money was a tangible solution to addressing financial barriers to higher education, and something that we had the ability to do. Thus, we began developing our financial application program.”
The project idea was propelled by statistics surrounding the financial inaccessibility of higher education. The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (2022) reported that 34% of 18–24-year-olds who are not pursuing post-secondary education attribute it to its financial burden. This is understandable as post-secondary tuition is increasingly unaffordable and according to Statistics Canada (2023), debt for bachelor's degrees averages at $28,000.
“Further, a post-secondary education can be greatly beneficial to students,” Adrianna says. “Not only are employment rates among individuals with any form of post-secondary education higher than those with a secondary school diploma (Statista Research Department, 2023), but the income gap is also greatest between individuals with a secondary school diploma and individuals with a bachelor’s degree (Statistics Canada, 2019). The health and well-being effects associated with staying in school include greater social support and greater life satisfaction, which predict lower mortality (Boylan et al., 2022; Kawachi et al., 2010). Moreover, helping students from low-income households or households below the poverty line attend post-secondary can help stop the cycle of poverty (Arnold & Doctoroff, 2003). A post-secondary education can help to facilitate all these benefits, and the amount of money it costs should not be a deterring factor.”
Alyssa Giovannangeli explained that all members of the team shared the stressful experience of applying to various scholarships while in high school and not fully knowing what to expect. “Many graduating students don’t receive guidance on how to make successful applications and where to look for available financial aid,” Alyssa says. “When we found out how much scholarship money is left over each year, we couldn’t believe that more high school students are not being connected with this information and encouraged to apply. We knew from the literature that there is a substantial amount of people not pursuing post-secondary because of the financial barriers, so with this information about the available financial aid, we wanted to find a way to bridge the gap.”
The students’ financial application program is an equitable, accessible module-based program designed using H5P, that strives to connect students with the surplus of untapped scholarship money each year. The program will be an open access resource for teachers and school boards to embed into their online systems, such as their OnQ (D2L) equivalents at Queen’s University. “The design of the modules is rooted in empirical evidence from psychological research,” Flo Nusselder says. “We’ve incorporated concepts of scaffolding, cognitive load management, learning consolidation, and multimedia design. The modules will cover content related to budgeting, financial planning, resumé building, scholarship searching, and application writing.”
The team wants the program to be accessible to as many students as possible. Ultimately, they hope to provide students with the tools and skills they need to apply for funding so “the students who desire to fund their pursuit of higher education, know how to do so,” Flo Nusselder explains. “By helping to foster students' self-efficacy and confidence in their knowledge and skills, we aim to increase the number of people who apply for scholarships, so that financial resources are no longer a major barrier to accessing post-secondary education.”
The primary goal with this initiative is to reduce barriers to financial aid and scholarship applications, ultimately increasing the number of students who apply to post-secondary education. By having the program accessible through schools, students don't have to pay for the resources and can access the content at their school. This is a critical aspect of the program since the individuals who will most benefit from access to scholarships and financial aid money are often required to work part-time jobs, and thus unable to devote the required time to complete the applications outside of school.
In addition to being full-time students, most members of the team are working or have worked to help finance their education. Fulfilling the responsibilities of roles as students and as employees can be physically and mentally demanding, especially in busy times such as final exam season. “If we had more financial resources or lower costs for post-secondary education, we would have the opportunity to focus more on our studies,” Yanxin Xu says. “Working can also limit student’s chances to participate in extra-curricular activities that are not immediately transferable to income, but which are important to developing expertise and enhancing a resumé. In the process of developing our program, there are times when scheduling and coordination are difficult because some of us must work, even though we all put a high value on the project and hope for the best for it. If our education is not as expensive, we could invest more time in things we are passionate about and which have the potential to benefit society, like our project.”
At the beginning of the semester, the students had the opportunity to connect with QYourVenture in the Dunin-Deshpande Queen's Innovation Centre. As they enter each of the funding stages in this program, the team aims to connect with school boards, superintendents, guidance counsellors, and teachers across high schools in Canada. “At Queen’s we hope to collaborate with several of the programs that connect high school students to the university to pilot our materials before we approach our larger goal of reaching the school boards,” Hannah Burrows comments. “We are all very passionate about creating accessible and equitable evidence-based curricula in the online-learning space, and so we aim to collaborate with other groups from PSYC400 to pursue more fields that require updated curricula based on Canadian students’ lack of understanding, such as financial literacy and sexual education.”
The team recently placed in the top 5 presentations at the 17th annual Inquiry@Queen’s Undergraduate Research Conference on the second day in the Culture & Society Session. Here they had the opportunity to formally present their research, field questions on a panel, and connect with other undergraduate students who are currently pursuing further research in this field. From the graduate adjudicator’s top 5 placement, they were also interviewed about the process on the campus radio podcast, CFRC 101.9FM. As COVID-19 has impacted all of education, this was the first opportunity for each group member to present at a research conference in person, and for the graduating members of the group, the last opportunity to do this as undergraduates. “This experience was extremely exciting, especially since our faculty-supervisor for this project, Dr. Meghan Norris was in attendance,” Hannah recalls. “Dr. Norris provided us with invaluable support throughout this year while TAing PSYC100 and conducting research, allowing us to each have a full circle moment!”
“Thanks to the online programs we are working with, we can meet and work on this project remotely, allowing us to continue working together even after graduation,” Alyssa says. “We are all in this project for the long-run and hope to see it help more students access financial aid one day!”
“Working on this project together has given us a precious opportunity to connect with peers who share the same ambition, as well as faculty members like Dr. Meghan Norris and many others from Queen’s University who are committed to enriching student learning opportunities and have supported us along the way,” Yanxin concludes. “We hope this project will connect us to the Queen’s community even after graduation.”
Arnold, D. H., & Doctoroff, G. L. (2003). The early education of socioeconomically disadvantaged children. Annual Review of Psychology, 54(1), 517-45. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.psych.54.111301.145442
Boylan, J. M., Tompkins, J. L., & Krueger, P. M. (2022). Psychological well-being, education, and mortality. Health Psychology, 41(3), 225–234. https://doi.org/10.1037/hea0001159
Kawachi, I., Adler, N. E., & Dow, W. H. (2010). Money, schooling, and health: Mechanisms and causal evidence. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1186(1), 56–68. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.05340.x
National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. (2022). Current term enrollment estimates. NSCRC. Retrieved October 20, 2022, from https://nscresearchcenter.org/current-term-enrollment-estimates/
Statista Research Department. (2023). Canada: Employment rate 2022, by educational attainment. Statista. Retrieved from https://www.statista.com/statistics/437750/employment-rate-in-canada-by-educational-attainment/
Statistics Canada. (2019). Does education pay? A comparison of earnings by level of education in Canada and its provinces and territories. Government of Canada. Retrieved from https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2016/as-sa/98-200-x/2016024/98-200-x2016024-eng.cfm
Statistics Canada. (2023). Table: 37-10-0036-01 Student debt from all sources, by province of study and level of study [Data table]. Government of Canada. https://doi.org/10.25318/3710003601-eng