NAIS Research: 2021 State of Financial Aid Survey

By Mark J. Mitchell
NAIS Vice President

Executive Summary

In 2010, 2016, and in 2021, NAIS administered the State of Financial Aid Survey to financial aid administrators in independent schools to learn more about the practices, preparation, and sense of job satisfaction associated with their work and to gauge whether these dynamics have changed over time. The 2021 survey had three primary objectives:
  • Identify and understand the qualities, roles, functions, training, preparation, and backgrounds of financial aid administrators
  • Examine the degree of satisfaction and impact that financial aid administrators feel in the position and what contributes to a sense of success
  • Explore the obstacles, challenges, and needs that face financial aid administrators
In the years since NAIS surveyed financial aid administrators in 2016, the median average independent school day tuition grew 19% (17% for boarding tuition). Though need-based financial aid spending per school grew 28% over the same time span, median total enrollment remained flat. Given the price and affordability dynamics impacting schools’ ability to hold the line on enrollment, the importance of an intentional and well-managed strategy for sustainable tuition discounting has only grown. The 2021 State of Financial Aid Survey provides an examination of the ways that financial aid professionals view their goals, struggles, impact, and needs; the findings can shape how school leaders support the outcomes of the strategic investment in financial aid and the people who manage it day to day.

This report was written by Mark J. Mitchell, vice president at NAIS. Though the questions asked in each survey are not entirely the same across all three studies, this report provides comparisons for those responses that can be tracked against the 2010 and 2016 surveys to assess what, if any, changes have occurred over the past decade.


As in 2010 and 2016, NAIS engaged the research firm Insightlink to help design the online questionnaire, collect and manage survey responses, and compile the results. The survey opened in August 2021 with an invitation sent via email to 3,283 administrators in the NAIS database who were listed as the primary financial aid contact or (absent that indicator) an admissions director or business manager (since those roles are most often responsible for the day-to-day financial aid work). Only 98 email bouncebacks were received, and 670 practitioners completed at least part of the survey, for a 21% response rate. Of those 670, most (582) completed the survey in full. This was significantly higher than the 2016 survey results in both the total number of respondents (670 versus 372) and the response rate (21% versus 12%).

Note that totals may not equal 100% due to rounding.

NAIS is grateful to all those who completed the survey in part or in full.

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