Financial aid offices often deal with some of higher education’s most complex, nuanced and flat-out tricky fine-print problems. With the thousands of cases a single officer can deal with in a year, it’s hard not to err.
According to a Financial Aid Services (FAS) report, around three-quarters of financial aid directors, chief enrollment officers and CFOs are only somewhat satisfied, somewhat dissatisfied or neutral about how satisfied they are with their institution’s existing financial aid services. Recent national developments will only exacerbate the problem.
While the Biden administration’s approval of the FAFSA Simplification Act is sure to streamline financial aid offices’ operations in the long term, the next application cycle is poised to be challenging. FAFSA forms for the 2024-25 academic year will not be available until December, which can bottleneck applications that offices are used to receiving two months prior. This delay in aid can lessen students’ financial aid rewards and impact their decision-making.
Secondly, higher education still needs to work out the legal ramifications of the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down affirmative action and how it will impact financial aid policies and practices now and in the future. Before the ruling, FAS found that only 51% of universities feel ‘not so confident’ or only ‘somewhat confident’ that their financial aid services team fully understands the current state of federal, state, and local regulations that govern financial aid.
Navigating tomorrow’s financial aid cases with confidence
In its comprehensive report, FAS urges higher education leaders to embrace strategic partnerships with outside experts who can offer augmented staffing support, coaching, training and financial aid technology support.
“By offering actionable strategies and fostering innovative partnerships, we strive to ignite positive change and elevate the financial aid landscape for the betterment of students and institutions alike,” said Robert Heil, CEO of Financial Aid Services.
Here are four ways partnerships with outside experts, such as with FAS, can elevate your financial aid offices amid its evolving challenges.
1. Expert help in changing regulations
Nearly half of all institutions scored changing federal, state and local as the second-most significant challenge facing financial aid offices, only behind hiring qualified talent. Partnerships can elevate staff by providing expert, tailored coaching and training on the latest regulation changes. This way, financial aid teams can work confidently and effectively (and thus, faster) on each case, knowing they are remaining compliant.
2. Outsourced work improves the student experience
Outside support can help financial aid offices in two ways. One, they will have a more robust workforce to answer student queries around the clock. This will help clarify the financial aid process for more students in a time-efficient matter, which is exactly the expectations of today’s students shaped by the market of on-demand e-commerce and entertainment services. Secondly, they can help process a higher rate of applications. Ultimately, institutional staff have more time to focus on counseling and advising students.
3. More support creates a higher retention rate
Building on the first and second points, a financial aid staff supported by outside experts can ensure their bases are covered with new regulations, student queries and an exorbitant number of cases. This reassurance can help prevent employee burnout and keep employment numbers healthy. This is crucial for the 56% of institutions NASFAA surveyed that cited their financial aid offices were working at reduced capacity.
4. Leverage better tech tools
With today’s $240 billion edtech market, there are bound to be services that financial aid offices can leverage to enhance student information systems and technology infrastructures. Trained professionals outside the organization, such as at FAS, can introduce these technologies to institutions and further streamline team objectives to improve student experience and productivity.