Financial aid offices: How to stop a massive employee exodus

A desire for better pay and more flexible workplaces may drive more than half of higher ed's financial aid professionals to look for new employment.

Financial aid offices were already struggling with staff shortages, a lack of representation and other personnel challenges when the FAFSA fiasco struck higher ed. The ongoing disruptions are now adding up to fresh warnings of heavy turnover within the profession.

A desire for better pay and more flexible workplaces may drive more than half of higher ed’s financial aid professionals to look for new employment in the next 12 months, according to a survey of more than 6,000 financial aid employees at 956 institutions by the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources and the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.

“If we’ve learned anything from this last year, it’s just how critical financial aid administrators are to ensuring students can access postsecondary education,” NASFAA President and CEO Justin Draeger said in a statement. “Financial aid professionals are a vital part of the campus ecosystem, keeping students on track to graduate, ensuring the right taxpayer and donor dollars are going to the right students, and maintaining institutional eligibility for federal and state funds.”

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The report found that median salaries for financial aid employees are higher at colleges and universities that process more FAFSA applications. Financial aid offices are also larger—up to seven times larger—at institutions that process more FAFSA applications. When it comes to diversity, the report noted that just 19% of chief student financial aid officers identify as people of color compared to 37% of counselors.

The bright spot, of sorts, is that many of those who plan to seek a new job intend to do so within higher education. More than half also said they would consider moving into the private or nonprofit sectors while about 45% may look for a different position in their current institution.

Fortifying your financial aid office

To retain employees, increase diversity and improve pay equity for people of color and women, the report recommends:

  1. If your college or university is among the 13% of institutions with a one-person financial aid office, consider that even among institutions that process the fewest FAFSA applications, over half have three or more employees in their financial aid office.
  2. Compare your institution’s number of financial aid counselors to those that receive similar numbers of FAFSA applications. The number and types of financial aid programs an institution participates in or administers should be another consideration when determining adequate staffing levels.
  3. Determine if your college or university has processes does your institution have in place to recruit and retain people of color in the financial aid office and how the processes can be improved.
  4. Conduct an internal audit to determine if pay equity for women and people of color declines as the level of financial aid position increases.
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is the managing editor of University Business and a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for University Business, he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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