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McGill University
Montreal, QC

National Data Benchmarking Survey Project



Across the country, Scholarships and Financial Aid professionals help thousands of students every year access higher education and complete their degree.  However, oftentimes the scope and impact of the work done by the financial aid and awards teams are not fully understood, both within the institution, and across the collective higher education network.

To provide financial aid administrators and CASFAA itself with an important tool to advance and promote this work, CASFAA provided research funding to propose a National Data Benchmarking Survey.  Co-created and led by Stephanie Sarik at Concordia University and Cara Piperni at McGill University, this initiative was designed to establish a foundation towards addressing the absence of data and aggregate information about work in the scholarships and financial aid field in Canadian schools. 


Constructing the Survey

The aim of the survey instrument to collect and report on large-scale data from across the country, is twofold: 

  • To provide a tool for participating schools with a baseline for them to compare their own operations and resources in order to support their internal discussions about service delivery and student programming, and
  • To provide a data mechanism to strengthen CASFAA’s ability to work on behalf of all members by assessing trends across the country, demonstrating the collective impact the work done in scholarships and student aid offices and to enhance the association’s government lobbying and advocacy efforts. 

In September 2017, we assembled a nationwide Survey Task Force of Canadian financial aid and awards leaders to formulate a draft survey and review questions for relevance and clarity.  The Task Force agreed that the student financial support community has an important story to tell and that the survey tool would be very useful in advancing essential dialogues both within educational institutions and with key external stakeholders.  The group agreed that the following were the most impactful areas to survey:

  • Program operations management and service delivery excellence for students within the financial aid office
  • Advocacy for student financial assistance policy, budgets and programming in support of access
  • Strategic initiatives at the institutional level as well as collaborative work with external partners in the design and delivery of large scale financial support programming for students


Academica Group as Survey Administrator and Data Keeper

It was also determined that an independent third party is critical to the survey refinement and distribution, but even more importantly to collect and analyze data, produce and distribute reports.  Given the nature of questions, no single school (including CASFAA Board members) should be in possession of disaggregate data.  The vendor selection process ensured the engagement of a survey specialist within the Canadian Higher Ed space, as well as to house the data repository.  Ultimately CASFAA entered into a contractual arrangement with Academica Group.  CASFAA also revised its Privacy Policy to address the confidential treatment of institutional data.


CASFAA AGM Approval to Invest

The final survey draft and recommendations to contract with Academica Group for 2 years was presented at the AGM during our May 2018 annual conference in Montreal and received unanimous support from the membership.  It was further agreed that an ongoing governance structure would need to be in place to implement this initiative.  The National Data Benchmarking Standing Committee was struck to manage the operations with Academica Group, communications to membership, drive analysis opportunities and plan survey continuity.


Membership Engagement is Critical!

Year 1 survey was opened at the end of October 2018 for approximately one month, open to all Canadian institutional financial aid and awards teams who are members of the Association, for which we had a 72% response rate.  Our Year 2 Survey is expected to be launched in November 2019.  The survey is expected to take about 60 minutes to complete, with one submission per institution.  The Primary Member is the assumed submitter, however it is possible to delegate to an individual who is also a CASFAA member at the institution.  

We are truly excited to engage colleagues across the country in this initiative to recognize (and leverage!) the enormous amounts of time and energy we collectively spend to help so many students every year access higher education. Your survey responses will help CASFAA further support you, your institution and your students.

Our inaugural National Report was published in May 2019.  The Year 2 National Report, with year-over-year benchmarking, will be released in advance of CASFAA’s 2020 conference.

Please make our collective investment count, and make sure your institution’s data is counted!  Contributing to this effort will help you identify the impact of the great work by your team and its benefit to your institution’s strategic goals.  This is an opportunity to help you facilitate and advance discussions at your institution about student financial support and identification of programming.  This report can also be used to compare with the receipt you get upon survey completion.



National Data Benchmarking Standing Committee 2019/20

  • Stephanie Sarik, Concordia University, QC, Committee Chair
  • Cara Piperni, McGill University, QC, CASFAA Past President
  • Shelley Clayton, University of New Brunswick, NB, CASFAA NB/NF/LB Regional Director
  • Fiona Halbert, University of Alberta, AB
  • Emily-Rose Lam, Capilano University, BC
  • Betsy Maus, Bow Valley College, AB
  • Christopher Rooney, Trent University, ON
  • Donna Wall, University of Toronto, ON
  • Chrstina Warren, Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University, NS

National Data Benchmarking Standing Committee 2018/19

  • Stephanie Sarik, Concordia University QC, Committee Chair
  • Cara Piperni, McGill University QC, Board representative/CASFAA Past President
  • Donna Wall, University of Toronto ON
  • Shelley Clayton, University of New Brunswick NB
  • Susan Allward, University of Ontario Institute of Technology ON
  • Heather Mitchell, University of British Columbia BC
  • Necia Martins, Wilfred Laurier University ON
  • Fiona Halbert, University of Alberta AB
  • Krista Marsden, Algonquin College ON
  • Jane Lastra, University of Manitoba MB, CASFAA Vice-President (Executive)
  • Christina Warren, Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University NS
  • Sirina Hamilton, Northern Alberta Institute of Technology AB
  • Pamela Goodwin, Dalhousie University NS
  • Valerie Sarkany, Western University ON

 We wish to express our thanks to the members of the Standing Committee who donate their time and contributed their expertise in support of this project.

 Survey Task Force

Our Task Force members were:

  • Stephanie Sarik – Chair, Concordia University, QC
  • Cara Piperni – CASFAA Past President, McGill University, QC
  • Susan Allward – University of Ontario Institute of Technology, ON
  • Shelley Clayton – University of New Brunswick, NB
  • Necia Martins – Wilfrid Laurier University, ON
  • Heather Mitchell – University of British Columbia, BC
  • Donna Wall – University of Toronto, ON

We wish to express our thanks to the members of the Task Force who donated their time and contributed their expertise in support of this project.