By: Robert Heil, CEO
Is Financial Aid a Process or an Experience?
Your answer may depend on whether you view financial aid through an internal or external lens. As higher ed professionals, we often view financial aid as a process – a series of complex procedures to ensure eligibility, offers, and disbursements that adhere to strict compliance regulations. However, students usually view our institutions differently. Students and parents view financial aid as a time-intensive, pivotal experience where value is determined, and decisions are made about enrolling for the first time and continuing to re-enroll each semester.
As a higher ed professional for more than 30 years, I am a consummate insider. I understand the enormous complexities financial aid professionals contend with. As a leader, I push myself to view our industry from an outside-in perspective – to look at it through the same lens as students and parents.
Time is the Currency of Experiences
In their book, The Experience Economy, Joe Pine and James Gilmore claim time is the currency of experiences. Think about your own personal and professional experiences. Those moments are memorable because of the investment of time you gave. For students and parents, financial aid is a multi-month commitment working with multiple institutions to navigate the application process, understand eligibility requirements, explore funding options, and ensure timely submission of mandatory documents, all while making informed decisions to maximize available aid and minimize the financial burden of higher education costs. While the financial aspect certainly significantly influences enrollment decisions, the overall experience also holds considerable importance. Competition to recruit and retain students isn’t getting any easier; institutions that create better student experiences have a major competitive advantage in this environment. While focusing on ROI (return on investment), are you ignoring ROE – return on experience? How would you rate the financial aid experience you provide?
Amazon, Starbucks, DoorDash, and Your Financial Aid Office
Students are conditioned by a gig economy. Companies like Amazon, Starbucks, and DoorDash, have mastered personalization, convenience, + speed at scale. Like it or not, students expect an optimized financial aid experience. Granted, financial aid is significantly more important than mobile ordering an iced caramel macchiato; however, we must appreciate that today’s students have grown up in an experience economy. How does your financial aid experience align with student expectations? Is there a gap? How wide? Are you measuring your student’s financial aid experience?
Students Are Experiencing Your Process
Back to our original question: Is financial aid a process or an experience? The best way to think about it is how students are experiencing your process. As one financial aid leader put it, that experience improves when the process is seamless, streamlined, and at times “hidden” to students and parents. Your lobby waiting area. Your student portal. Online self-help. Time to process aid applications. Time to complete verification. Every step of the way, students and parents experience your process and make decisions accordingly.
Be on the Lookout for the eBook.
Earlier this year, FAS surveyed higher ed leaders nationwide to understand their most pressing challenges in managing financial aid operations. Presidents, CFOs, VPs for Enrollment, and Financial Aid Directors all cited that meeting student expectations were among the top 3 most difficult challenges.
Our comprehensive eBook is the ultimate guide for understanding the intricacies of financial aid in the higher education industry. This eBook covers everything from overseeing compliance requirements, optimizing the student experience, maximizing technology, and addressing the current staffing challenges. FAS has captured the market and is excited to provide this resource this spring.
Sign up to be the first to get a copy of our eBook today and gain the knowledge and tools to navigate the financial aid landscape confidently!
In the meantime, let’s continue the discussion. Connect with us online or schedule a 20-minute quick consultation to learn from or exchange ideas with one of our industry-leading consultants.