By: Mr. Lawrence Britton, FAS Senior Consultant and Dr. Delinda Hall, FAS Executive Consultant
Communications and the sharing of information among campus partners in the administration of federal student financial aid funding (Title IV) are critical as Institutions of higher education seek to successfully comply with federal regulations. All too many campuses are filled with silos and dysfunction among their administrative teams. This type of dysfunctional operation negatively impacts the student experience and quality of customer service. Critical partnerships are a must between the areas of registration and records, admissions, student accounts (bursar), academic affairs/faculty, financial aid, and finance teams. Compliance with federal regulations pertaining to Title IV funds is an institutional responsibility.
A number of top Audit and Program Review findings are directly related to the partnership between administrative offices responsible for federal student aid program compliance. One administrative area cannot perform efficiently without the other’s awareness and knowledge of Title IV regulations. The timely sharing of accurate student-
level data is just as important in this partnership. Collaboration and knowledge sharing are key to reducing inaccuracies and improving the student experience. The following are recommendations for critical communications and information sharing between campus partners to promote and enhance institutional administrative capability:
Admissions communication/information shared with the Financial Aid Office
- Prior to the start of each term –
- Routine (weekly at a minimum) reporting of admitted applicants (include the program for which the applicant has been admitted)
- Routine (weekly at a minimum) reporting of admitted applicants who have withdrawn their intention to enroll (ensures aid is appropriately canceled prior to start of term)
Registrar communication/information shared with the Financial Aid Office
- Routine reporting (weekly at a minimum) of students who are registered for the term and have notified the office they are no longer planning to enroll for the term.
- Timely reporting of students who began attendance at the start of the term and have officially withdrawn from the institution prior to the end of the term.
- Timely reporting of students who have completed all degree requirements following each term.
- Sharing accurate anticipated/actual graduation dates and students withdrawn from the institution during the term is mandatory.
- Timely reporting of registered students and changes in enrollment status throughout the term/enrollment period (for example, full-time dropped to part-time, part-time changed to full-time, etc.)
- Timely reporting of student program of study changes
Faculty/Academic Affairs communication/information reported and available to the Registrar.
- Start of the Term:
- Reporting of registered students who have initiated attendance in each class; and
- Reporting of students who began attendance but are not on the class roster.
- Throughout the Term:
- Reporting of registered students who have ceased attending class prior to the end of the term (specify the last date of attendance/academic activity)
- Academic Calendars for each Program of Study (include Term specific start/end dates, and scheduled breaks)
- Are there any programs of study considered to be modular or competency-based? These should be clearly identified.
- Is there a business process in place that clearly communicates across the campus community the creation or emergence of new programs of study?
Student Accounts Communications/Information shared with Financial Aid
- Institutional charges for students who enroll (register) at the institution.
- Disbursement processing of both Title IV aid and institutional aid
- Schedules of refunds of credit balances pertaining to Title IV aid
- Is there a business process in place that appropriately removes charges for students who withdraw from the institution prior to the start of the term?
Institutional Research/Academic Affairs communication/information shared with Financial Aid
- Federal Reporting – Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS)
- In some institutions, this office may assist with some sections of the Fiscal Operations Report and Application to Participate (FISAP)
Finance Team/Treasury communications/information shared with Financial Aid
- These campus partners hold pivotal roles in the reconciliation process and drawdown of Title IV funds.
Key takeaways and recommendations:
- Standing meetings to review University policy and processes between leadership and front-line staff of the Office of the Registrar, Academic Affairs/Provost, Directors of Student Accounts, Admissions, and Financial Aid, Finance/Treasury Offices
- Training of staff and continuous monitoring of the processes is essential.
- Share regulatory updates critical to the institution’s operations.
- Provide appropriate access to federal student aid systems to complete task-specific responsibilities (e.g., enrollment and graduation reporting)
- Perform periodic sample audits to ensure the effectiveness of control measures in place.
- Document (create business process guides) processes and procedures within all departments.
- Any change in staff should not impede ongoing operations as there are well-documented steps to reference.
Source: Fiscal Year 2022 Top Ten School Audit Findings and Top Ten School Program Review Findings (https://studentaid.gov/sites/default/files/FY2022-Top-Findings-Companion-Report.pdf)