Welcome to FAS’ Consulting Corner! In conjunction with launching our new website, we want to use this space to share relevant information with financial aid and student business services practitioners. It’s a safe and reliable place to get the latest news on what’s happening in financial aid and student finance all around the country. We’ll tackle issues from maintaining rigorous compliance standards and leveraging technology, to giving your students the best possible experience. Our consultants are thought leaders with a combined 1,600 years of experience in their respective fields. Higher Education is an industry that’s always in motion. There is always something new to talk about, so check back often. We’re adding fresh content all the time. Whether you’re considering services, need guidance or resources, or just want to connect with FAS, we’ve got something for you.
https://www.financialaidservices.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/Consulting-Corner-team.png 788 940 Ken Garrett https://www.financialaidservices.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/FAS-Stacked-Logo-02-300x127.png Ken Garrett2022-09-30 14:13:352022-09-30 14:24:51Welcome to FAS’ Consulting Corner
https://www.financialaidservices.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/Assessment-Analysis-Review.png 788 940 Ken Garrett https://www.financialaidservices.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/FAS-Stacked-Logo-02-300x127.png Ken Garrett2022-09-29 15:40:402022-09-30 15:49:023 Reasons You Need a Student Accounts Office Assessment
Most colleges and universities are finding themselves more tuition driven than ever. Many institutions, especially small private colleges, are heavily enrollment dependent. In a time when resources are running thin and students’ needs are more crucial and demanding than ever, institutions are more reliant on delivering services efficiently and effectively to attract and retain students.
As the final stop in students’ experiences, the student accounts office must be firing on all cylinders to serve students and meet a myriad of other demands, including institutional and regulatory compliance. An accurate and defensible plan to advance your student accounts office begins with data – lots of data. Leaders and decision-makers need information about staffing resources, technology needs and a detailed account of compliance-related risks.
The best way to collect all this information is with an Office Assessment. If you’ve never conducted an Assessment – or it’s been more than three years since you have – here are three reasons you need to complete a Student Accounts Office Assessment as part of your Strategic Plan.
Reason 1: Creating a detailed understanding and baseline about how your student accounts operations is functioning
Would you set long-term retirement savings goals without looking at your current financial situation? No. You’d review your savings and retirement accounts. You’d consider your assets. You’d likely reach out to a financial advisor.
Think about your student accounts office the same way you think about retirement planning. You shouldn’t make any major forward-thinking plans, or even current assumptions, about the office without having a sense of its strengths and weaknesses. Knowing your starting point will help you determine how to realistically capture some easily attainable short-term wins and achieve your long-term goals.
Reason 2: Measuring the functional condition of your student accounts office, documenting future needs and gaining efficiencies
Assessment outcomes will help you make the smartest investments for your institution and direct resources where they will have the greatest impact. Objective Assessment data enables you to fortify areas that are performing well and improve those operational aspects that may be deficient or just need some shoring up. Accounting for both ensure that overall operations meet your standards, serves your students and sets you up for success while also creating efficiencies and potential cost savings.
Reason 3: Taking the guesswork out of staffing and succession planning
Conversations about future staffing often can be emotional and even political. Data collected through an Assessment removes the emotion from planning. It provides the objective baseline needed for your decision making, empowering the student accounts office to thrive in coming years regardless of retirements or other staff departures.
Those are three formidable reasons to conduct a Student Accounts Assessment. But deciding to act is just the first step. Next, you decide how to gather and synthesize all this information in a meaningful way.
How to Conduct a Business Office Assessment
Many assume that an Assessment can be conducted by campus staff. After all, no one knows your shop better than those closest to it. Let us offer a word of caution – your staff already has a lot of responsibilities to manage. Adding something of this size and scope to their to-do list easily could lead to burnout and result in an Assessment project that is started, but never finished.
More importantly, the best way to collect unbiased information is to work with a partner who has a proven track record of analyzing and documenting client’s needs and establishing priorities—like FAS Student Business Services.
Our team of consultants has a wealth of experience and specific areas of expertise that they use to evaluate your operations from the front-facing student engagement to back-office processing and everywhere else in between. With a variety of formats and options you can choose the right one for your campus.
No matter which option you choose, by the end of the assessment, you’ll have a comprehensive and objective view of your student accounts office and the information you need to build an informed multi-year strategic plan. FAS can help there, too. We’ll not only make customized recommendations, but we’ll also help you leverage that information into an actionable plan. You can be confident that your operational goals roll up into and support your institution’s strategic plan.
https://www.financialaidservices.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/vacant-office_empty-chair2.png 788 940 Ken Garrett https://www.financialaidservices.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/FAS-Stacked-Logo-02-300x127.png Ken Garrett2022-04-22 08:28:572022-09-30 08:44:03Your Bursar Is Leaving—Now What?
It is inevitable: all employees eventually move on to a new job, a new campus, or a long-awaited retirement. Turnover in a key position such as bursar or student financial services director is both a challenge and an opportunity. Continuity is vital so no important tasks are overlooked. You may be lucky enough to have an experienced staff member primed to take over. Or you may be ready to rethink the role and would rather fill the position temporarily.
Step 1: Prepare for the departure
When you receive any employee’s notice, have them identify and document critical functions and current processes. A long-serving bursar might maintain detailed mental checklists without physically documenting this information. Your institution’s official process documentation was likely accurate at one time, but is it still? Procedures have likely evolved over time and critical details could be missing.
Don’t let decades of knowledge walk out the door with the departing employee.
- Update process and procedure documentation
Have your departing employee gather all relevant business process and procedural documentation. Ask them to update instructions, document all processes, and include any helpful context. This should include screenshots and system navigation tips. The overall objective is to document processes and the logical thought process they follow for troubleshooting and researching questions.
Have the employee create or update checklists that account for their daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly (or semester), and annual tasks. The lists should include both internal and external deadlines and recommended dates to begin the work. Key contacts and any necessary external systems or website links should be included. It is good practice to ask other employees who participate in business office functions (i.e., assistant/associate bursar, account representatives, functional analysts, etc.) to make their own list(s) to cross-reference.
If you find that your organization does not have up-to-date written cash handling or accounting processes and procedures, make documenting these activities a key priority.
- Transfer system access
Consider any necessary updates to system access and security protocols. Identify all software and third-party logins used and establish an alternative user or new primary administrator. Make sure you test all login credentials prior to the departing employee’s last day. Cross-reference these items with the checklists and procedure documents to verify all access points are addressed. System access will likely include the student information system, accounting software, banking accounts, and third-party service providers such as payment processors and credit card vendors. Consult with your IT department or service provider to ensure all security protocols are considered and addressed.
Don’t forget to close out the departing individual’s access.
- Transfer point of contact
Consider the departing bursar’s key relationships, such as impacted campus partners, vendors, and bankers. It is important to inform them that their point of contact will be changing. Avoid leaving them with outdated contact information or no one to call about unfinished items. Who will they reach out to in the short term if needed? These individuals or firms can serve as a bridge and help you through the transition.
Step 2: Assess your business office operations for potential gaps or areas of weakness and opportunities for process improvement
Next, consider key functions to identify areas for improvement. You may have staff leaving for jobs they perceive to be easier or less stressful. While there are many root causes for this perception, in the day-to-day operations of a business office, staff frequently attribute their greatest stress to chasing deadlines constantly, inefficient processes, outdated or underutilized technology, and being short staffed. It’s important to uncover and proactively address such challenges. Assessing these with an open mind can help position your institution to grow and thrive.
These questions are a starting point for identifying opportunities to improve your business office functions:
- When was the last time business policies and procedures were evaluated or updated?
- Are reports and data requests challenging to produce in a timely manner?
- Does this office have control of its data and system processes or is it dependent on the IT department or others within the institution? Are you getting the most out of third-party vendors and managed services?
- Are you leveraging technology and other tools effectively?
- What do departing employees consider to be the most challenging tasks, and why?
Step 3: Determine what you truly need from your student business office
With a better understanding of your current operations, it’s time to assess the staffing and skills your institution truly needs—not necessarily what will maintain the status quo. By their nature, student financial service operations must coordinate closely with other offices, notably student financial aid and the registrar, to ensure good service and regulatory compliance. In addition to accomplishing the day-to-day critical tasks proficiently, your staff should be capable of providing timely reporting and updates so senior administrators can make informed, strategic decisions and provide the best experience for students.
Turnover provides the opportunity to revisit the qualifications and experience that are needed to maximize the value of your business office operations. Do you need accountants, collectors, customer service representatives, or technical support staff? Maybe you need components of all these fulfill the institution’s mission and serve its students.
Step 4: Evaluate the value proposition of alternative strategies
Finally, consider if this staffing change can serve as a catalyst to explore alternatives to continuing what has been done the same way for years. A targeted assessment may be the key.
Consultants are experienced professionals who easily identify quick wins and recommend broader initiatives to bring about longer lasting value. They also help develop the roadmap for navigating the transition. Sometimes, the forced change caused by turnover is an optimal time to move your processes forward and set up your institution for long-term success.
Transition and change in your business office can be challenging. Whether you are losing a staff member, or you want to be proactive in addressing opportunities for improvement, FAS’ Student Business Services can help. We are experienced in performing operational or targeted assessments, developing a strategic plan, and identifying new opportunities for institutions to achieve their goals.