Antigua-based school of medicine puts students first with a comprehensive financial aid planning system.
By Margaret Lindquist | January 2021
Founded in 2004 with just nine students, the American University of Antigua College of Medicine (AUA), located on the Caribbean island of Antigua, recruits students mostly from the US, offering lower tuition than most US medical schools. AUA was established with the goal of offering opportunities to underrepresented minorities and fostering a diverse academic community.
“Educating physicians from diverse backgrounds and experiences is central to AUA’s mission,” says Neal Simon, AUA’s president. “Our view is that the more people who have access to higher education and lifelong learning, the more the global community benefits.”
According to the Association for American Medical Colleges, there were 21,869 students newly enrolled in medical schools in the 2019/2020 academic year. Students who identified as Black or African American, Hispanic/Latino, and other historically underrepresented groups made up just 14% of the overall incoming student body. At AUA, however, more than 40% of students in the spring 2020 class belong to one of these groups.
AUA was founded with the commitment to support underserved communities and address the impending physician shortage, particularly in the area of primary care. The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates that by 2030, the US will suffer from a shortage of more than 121,000 doctors. Despite lacking endowments like more established US medical schools, AUA offers multiple scholarships—including admitting a handful of students from Antigua, who attend tuition-free.
Typical AUA students are in their early 20s and in many cases have never before traveled out of their home state, much less to a foreign country.
“First, they need to know what the school is like and what island life is like,” says Prabhu Marudheri, AUA’s chief financial officer. “On top of that, they may not know when their living expenses will be disbursed, and how they’ll pay their rent and buy food. Those things will chase students away from school.”
Originally, the college used an outside firm to manage financial aid, but the results weren’t satisfactory. For example, students eligible for Title IV financial assistance under the US Higher Education Act of 1965 often still didn’t know how much aid had been awarded to them by the time they arrived on the island.
“Educating physicians from diverse backgrounds and experiences is central to AUA’s mission. Our view is that the more people who have access to higher education and lifelong learning, the more the global community benefits.”
AUA decided to bring financial aid administration in-house in 2020 and started to look for software to manage that process. AUA wanted to automate as many processes as possible so that financial aid staffers could spend more time counseling students instead of getting bogged down with manual tasks.
After evaluating several vendors’ proposals, AUA decided on Oracle Student Financial Planning for two main reasons: The college trusted Oracle’s reputation for delivering feature-rich, secure applications; and it looked forward to working with Oracle implementation partner Highstreet, which has deep expertise in financial aid processes and regulations.
Robbie L. de Leur, Highstreet vice president for higher education and public sector, was equally impressed with AUA’s commitment to the project. “They set other projects on the back burner and said, ‘It’s more important for us to take care of our current students and get them their financial aid,’’ de Leur says. “And without that, they could not have been successful.”
Oracle Student Financial Planning manages each student’s financial situation independently and provides real-time visibility into a comprehensive, multiyear plan. Students get instant feedback on the financial implications of their academic choices, helping them make better-informed academic and borrowing decisions.
One of the biggest challenges AUA has is working with students who haven’t previously had to handle the financial details of their college lives. “Many of them don’t even know how to fill out FAFSA, so we have to guide them as much as possible,” Marudheri says.
Once students are trained to use the recently implemented Oracle Student Financial Planning student portal, about 90% of the financial aid process will be automated.
He expects that once students are trained to use the recently implemented financial planning student portal, about 90% of that process will be automated, enabling the financial aid team to spend most of their time teaching students basic financial principles and introducing them to new financial resources. For example, the AUA team has introduced a calculator that students with dependent children can use to figure out the costs associated with having a family in Antigua. The team can then help those students apply for additional funding to defray those costs.
“They care deeply about their students,” de Leur says. “When you see an institution that puts that much focus on their students, it just pulls you right in and you want to help them be successful.”
Meanwhile, if AUA’s students understand how the college determines the cost of attendance, and if they understand what aid is available to them and how they can borrow additional money, Marudheri says, “that should help with our biggest goals—retention and growing the student population.”
Photography: American University of Antigua and Sturti/Getty Images