College Debuts LIFTFAR, Financial Assistance Program for Low-Income and First-Generation Students

For many students, the excitement and anticipation of starting college also comes with the worries of how to afford it. Of course there are the forefront costs of tuition plus room and board, but many other “hidden costs” of college can often be unanticipated by new incoming students and their families. This can include a range of both regular and emergency costs, from clothing to wear to job interviews to transportation costs for trips back home in extenuating circumstances. While these expenditures are typically smaller than those covered by financial aid, they can add up and place a burden on many students.

On Tuesday, Sept. 26, Haverford President Kim Benston announced the launch of a new program entitled LIFTFAR (Low-Income and First-in-Their-Family Assistance and Resources). Like its name suggests, LIFTFAR is designed to provide support for low-income and first-generation students to help them cover some of these “hidden costs” of college, both academic and nonacademic, that are not covered by financial aid. In past years, many of the financial resources that could cover these costs would be available on campus through several different offices. However, there was no structure to direct students toward the proper campus resources. These various campus offices and programs, including the President’s Office, Dean’s Office, MSP, Student Life, and Institutional Advancement, now contribute to funding for LIFTFAR. LIFTFAR aims to consolidate these resources into a single initiative to be more accessible for students, such that they are better able to navigate their college experience and prepare for success beyond Haverford post-graduation. 

“The process [of acquiring funding] has been really ad hoc and patchwork in the past,” said President Benston. He also mentioned that previously, students would sometimes have to approach individual professors or administrators regarding the specific financial problem they were experiencing. “It takes a lot from students to admit that need. [LIFTFAR] aims to cover simple needs that are not so simple for the people experiencing them. The program consolidates resources and makes them more visible.”

However, President Benston and the Deans stressed that LIFTFAR is not going to address every need that low-income and first-generation students may have. This is partly because the program cannot legally fund certain items, including textbooks and athletic equipment. In the case of textbooks, these expenditures are typically covered by financial aid under the work study program and thus cannot be paid for with other college funds. Whereas athletic equipment cannot be covered due to certain rules mandated by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Additionally, LIFTFAR has a limited pool of funds, although a hard budget has yet to be established. Most of these funds are from a variety of offices on campus, as well as fundraising done by Institutional Advancement from Haverford’s community of alumni and friends.

Because the program is still in its preliminary phase, limited funding has not yet been an issue the Deans have encountered. However, Dean of Student Life Michael Martinez stated that as the year progresses, certain requests will have to be prioritized over others based on their nature and the need of the students. Currently, the process of receiving and approving requests is done through a collective decision of the Deans. The guidelines for approval are currently flexible and subject to revision, allowing the Deans to make decisions on a case-by-case basis. But the guidelines for approval are similar to those instituted by the Student Health Insurance Program, in which funding is awarded based on factors including the student’s financial need, the nature of the request, and funding availability. Most grants are expected to be under $300, and may be approved either in full or in part. However, Dean Martinez hopes to assemble a LIFTFAR Advisory Committee by the middle of the semester that will assess how effective the program has been and suggest subsequent revisions to the the current guidelines. In this way, college administrators hope to allow LIFTFAR to evolve over time to best meet student need.

In addition to being a source for funding, the program also aims to help students gain financial literacy. Ultimately, LIFTFAR will offer training sessions to help students learn not only how to secure resources both on- and off-campus, but also how to manage and utilize them effectively. While the scheduling and structure of these sessions has not yet been determined, the aim of these trainings is to help students plan effectively and maximize the opportunities that are available to them on campus and beyond. Additionally, in this way, LIFTFAR will also connect students to alternate resources in cases where LIFTFAR would not be able to accommodate students’ needs.  

“The goal of LIFTFAR, I think, is a bigger goal than other peer institution’s efforts,” said Dean Martinez. “The greatest value of LIFTFAR comes from its ability to narrow down and focus on issues.” The program will provide data to Deans and other administrators that will allow them to gain a clearer idea of students’ needs, and think through how to make changes to improve the experience of these students.

The beginnings of LIFTFAR can be traced all the way back to the Task Force on Community and Diversity. The Task Force was originally convened by former College President Dan Weiss in Fall 2014, and was composed of various invested faculty, administrators, and students. Over the course of two years, the Task Force discussed and developed ways to monitor and improve diversity and inclusion on campus. One component of this mission was developing a Campus Climate Survey that was disseminated to students in Fall 2015. According to the Task Force, the survey “[aimed] specifically to assess the campus community’s perceptions of issues, concerns, and undeveloped possibilities that [the Task Force] had identified through individual interviews with key campus stakeholders and focus groups throughout the Spring of 2015.”

Finally, through a series of meetings and engagements within the community, including the We’re Not Here to Say Thank You campaign, the Task Force developed The Strategic Plan for Diversity and Inclusion (SPDI). SPDI presents several initiatives that are aimed at supporting Haverford’s goals of greater diversity and inclusion. These initiatives are primarily directed toward connecting people, ideas, and programs campus-wide. Its goals are spread across four main areas: Community Life, Student Residential and Co-curricular Experience, Teaching and Learning, and Working and Thriving at Haverford. SPDI identified LIFTFAR as new program to be developed for the 2017-18 academic year, and outlined its goals.

In Fall 2016, the Council on Diversity and Inclusion (CDI), comprised of members from several offices and clerked by the President, was created to assume the role of the Task Force in a more streamlined manner. CDI meets every three weeks to discuss how the College can meet the goals outlined by SPDI, as well as ways to revise the plan to better fit the needs of the community.

For more information about LIFTFAR and its application process, please visit the program’s website.

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2 Responses

  1. Alicia Lopez-Torres says:

    I think it should be noted that all the money received from LIFTFAR is taxable income & they have no low-income, first gen student advisors or staff.

    • Claudia Nguyen says:

      Thanks for your comment Alicia! I looked into the two issues you brought up, and I wanted to address both of them. The article may be edited to include these later on. Firstly, you are correct in there is currently a lack of low-income or first-gen staff and student advisors for LIFTFAR, which does prevent the program from being as helpful to students as it should be. However, the LIFTFAR Advisory Committee mentioned in the article is aimed to address this issue, and will be the body that serves to incorporate the voices and perspectives of these students. Dean Martinez will begin the process of convening this group over fall break, in which he will invite students he knows who have an interest in this topic and Student Council will select two additional members. If you are interested, or know of anyone who is, I would definitely encourage you to reach out to some of the organizers of LIFTFAR and inquire about serving on the Advisory Committee. Secondly, regarding the taxable income status of LIFTFAR funding – at the time of the interview administration was unable to provide a statement regarding this due to concerns they had over whether it would represent legal tax advice, which places liability on the college. This is largely due to the newness of the program, and administration still working out financial and legal details with other offices on campus. However, after some guidance the Deans plans to update the LIFTFAR website to include a statement mentioning that LIFTFAR funds may be considered taxable income by the IRS and that students should consult a tax professional to determine whether to report funds as income. Again, thank you for bringing these critical issues about LIFTFAR to light, as well as holding both The Clerk and the administration accountable for being transparent with this information.

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