UBC Undergraduate Research

Improving the Dispersion of Equity-Based Financial Aid in Canadian Higher Education Galloway, Sophie; Keiver, Micayla; Meyer, August


In recent decades, Canadian institutions of higher learning have been compelled to enroll students from underrepresented backgrounds, but they have failed to support these students in meaningful ways that ensure their retention and academic success (Smith & Gottheil, 2011). The dispersion of equity-based financial aid is a potential solution to ‘level the playing field’ for disadvantaged students. This research study has engaged students at the University of British Columbia (UBC) Vancouver in order to understand the socioeconomic challenges marginalized students face and to elicit students’ perceptions of, experiences with, and recommendations for equity-based financial aid. Specifically, it investigates whether using an intersectional lens can make the selection process for financial aid more fair and objective. The Alma Mater Society (AMS) has commissioned this research in an effort to develop an equity-based grants initiative that will provide financial relief for such students. To assess and determine how an intersectional framework might improve the dispersion of equity-based financial aid at UBC, a survey and interviews were used to collect data from respondents. Respondents were encouraged to self-declare membership of Universities Canada’s (2019) five Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) groups: women, racialized minorities, Indigenous Peoples, persons with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ individuals, though a descriptive option was included for students who identified beyond these identity dimensions. Through the collection of quantitative and qualitative data via a Qualtrics survey and semi-structured interviews, the research investigated barriers that students face during their pursuit of higher education and aimed to understand how such barriers may be minimized through the provision of financial aid. The respondent pool was diverse and included recipients of equity-based financial aid as well as self-funded students. A mixture of quantitative value judgements were invited through survey questions based on a Likert scale, while qualitative responses were prompted through the self-directed, open-ended descriptive survey and interview questions that collected data on the attitudes surrounding equity-based financial aid at UBC. Qualitative coding was used to systematically organize and analyze open-ended survey responses and interview transcripts. The initial, broad categorization of responses into ‘financial hardship’ and ‘accessibility’ were later refined into more specific analytic codes that narrowed the scope of analysis and revealed concurrent themes amongst student responses. The findings demonstrate that while survey and interview respondents understood the rationale behind an intersectional approach to equity-based financial aid, few students believed that they would personally benefit from financial aid that considers intersectionality in its eligibility criteria. This finding does not dismiss the relevance of identity dimensions to marginalization but rather, it highlights the need to consider other life circumstances that contribute to the challenges experienced by marginalized students at UBC. Most importantly, the research findings call for the expansion and improved communication of financial aid opportunities at UBC. Respondents further identified several other key areas of concern, which include increasing funding for the Centre for Accessibility and basic necessities such as housing and mental health services. Future research calls to investigate the mechanisms through which students self-identify into marginalized groups, as well as how structural oppression limits the impact of financial aid on Canadian university students. Disclaimer: “UBC SEEDS provides students with the opportunity to share the findings of their studies, as well as their opinions, conclusions and recommendations with the UBC community. The reader should bear in mind that this is a student project/report and is not an official document of UBC. Furthermore readers should bear in mind that these reports may not reflect the current status of activities at UBC. We urge you to contact the research persons mentioned in a report or the SEEDS Coordinator about the current status of the subject matter of a project/report.”

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