Tag Archive for: Operational efficiency
https://www.financialaidservices.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/04/businesswoman-has-a-meeting-with-businessman-2022-02-02-03-57-53-utc-scaled.jpg 1707 2560 Julia Francis https://www.financialaidservices.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/FAS-Stacked-Logo-02-300x127.png Julia Francis2023-04-19 14:13:102023-04-27 10:11:233 Tips for Managing Transitions in Leadership within The Office of Financial Aid
https://www.financialaidservices.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/04/serious-millennial-couple-paying-bills-online-laptop-home-scaled.jpg 1707 2560 Julia Francis https://www.financialaidservices.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/FAS-Stacked-Logo-02-300x127.png Julia Francis2023-04-17 09:23:192023-06-30 10:46:51Challenges Deserve Solutions: Rethinking the Financial Aid Services Model
https://www.financialaidservices.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/Financial-Aid-Operating-Calendar.jpg 1080 1080 Ken Garrett https://www.financialaidservices.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/FAS-Stacked-Logo-02-300x127.png Ken Garrett2023-01-19 08:12:052023-01-19 08:23:02The Financial Aid Operating Calendar – It’s a Date and More
Financial aid offices keep track of dozens, even hundreds, of important dates. These range from application processing cycles, regulatory reporting deadlines, and software updates to campus visitation events, staff meetings, and even personnel vacation requests. So, a financial aid operations calendar gives institutions a real advantage. It empowers the financial aid office to plan for important dates, complete tasks on time, and manage workloads effectively.
Getting started is easier than you think. Often a “low-tech” approach is helpful. This could be a paper calendar or a whiteboard positioned in a high-visibility spot. Start with the academic calendar on your school’s website or in the catalog. Overlay that with information on your financial aid processing cycle, and other key information. When you’re ready to move it online, most email systems provide a shared calendar option. Also, web applications such as Calendly and Monday.com have free and low-cost subscription services.
Once you create a calendar, make it a living document, and revisit it frequently. Ask for feedback from everyone in the office, and perhaps from stakeholders in other departments. Share your operating calendar with other departments and request a copy of theirs. Include a calendar review in staff meetings at least once a month. An update-to-date calendar can reveal things that otherwise might be overlooked. Some tasks may not require much lead time. Others could need more. Are there large projects which hinge on many small tasks being completed? Will too many people be out of the office at a busy time of year?
Near the end of the year, do a calendar self-assessment. Did you miss any deadlines? Did a project need more time than was planned? Was too much time allotted for another? What you learn about this year makes next year’s calendar even more effective.
An operating calendar is a powerful tool for planning and achieving the financial aid office’s goals. It keeps projects on track and even helps to ensure the staff maintains a healthy work-life balance. Need help creating an operating calendar? FAS can help! Reach out today for a no-obligation consultation.
https://www.financialaidservices.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/New-AY-Setup.jpeg 788 940 Ken Garrett https://www.financialaidservices.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/FAS-Stacked-Logo-02-300x127.png Ken Garrett2022-12-08 08:06:052022-12-08 08:06:05A FAS-Track to New Academic Year Setup
By: Lisa Seals, Senior Consultant
Ready for the New Academic Year?
Getting ready for a new academic year can be a time of reflection or pulling your hair out. It’s a time to determine what has worked well, what could be improved, and what must totally be re-evaluated or reinvented.
Where to Start?
All Student Services, or Enrollment Management, departments are crucial to the new academic year setup. Using the right information from each area in the setup process not only streamlines operations but also maintains compliance measures and ultimately gives students a better experience. Each department has specific requests and requirements of the Financial Aid Office. Mapping out everything that is needed, why it is needed, and the timelines to be met is a great starting point.
What’s Needed and From Whom?
Gathering data, from certain departments, helps to set reasonable timelines to get these steps set up in your ERP systems and to produce actual or estimated offers to all students, but specifically the first-time, first-year incoming students.
- Admissions Requirements
- Admissions application acceptance
- Admissions approval timelines/codes
- Merit scholarship model and award amounts
- Need based grant (scholarship) model for incoming students
- When are students given school email and portal access?
- Academic calendar (Start/End dates)
- Official break of 5 or more days
- Term and Module census dates
- Is the calendar approved and are all dates in the registrar module?
- Tuition and Fee rates
- Billing statement dates
- Will estimated aid be listed on the bill?
- Will actual housing costs be available or will estimates be used?
- When will the new academic year release of the software be installed?
- Will there be an opportunity for testing the new release in a development (i.e., sandbox) environment?
What would you ask for?
What is a reasonable timeline? Meeting with the various student services departments will be helpful during this process. Generally, the Admissions Office and Senior Leadership have a target date for first-year, incoming students to receive offers from the institution. With that in mind, make sure that you have the new academic calendar as well as updated tuition and fee rates, and housing costs. Also, confirm the IT Department’s timeframe for importing the new award year’s data into your ERP system.
We know that we can use estimated data for this information. Most institutions want to now use actual tuition and fee rates while establishing a cost of attendance. The goal is to have finalized information to complete the setup processes, and not have to redo anything. What do you use?
Let’s set up the system! We’ll get into that soon!
https://www.financialaidservices.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/Communication-Forms.png 788 940 Ken Garrett https://www.financialaidservices.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/FAS-Stacked-Logo-02-300x127.png Ken Garrett2022-11-28 08:49:122022-11-28 08:49:12Tips and Hacks for Effective Student Communication
By: David Glezerman, Executive Consultant
As we approach the new year and start thinking about personal and professional New Year’s resolutions, it’s a good time to think about how to optimize how we communicate and interact with our students, families, and other institutional stakeholders.
Too often, institutions have relied on a single contact method to deliver information to their students—usually a school-provided email address. But students report being overwhelmed with emails from the “.edu” address coming from multiple institutional offices with a variety of news and information. The result is that students tune out and ignore all school emails, regardless of the value or urgency of the message.
Thoughtful communicators have found that schools can coordinate their efforts through increased collaboration across departments to reduce and simplify information requests and messaging via email channels. Student service offices should regularly review the types and content of their written communications to students, both electronic and U.S. Mail, to simplify and improve how and what is being delivered and when. Seeking out options for sending fewer, but more focused, correspondence can improve mail opening rates and lead to more timely bill payment and responses to information requests.
Revising your messages to provide clear and concise language can help in setting expectations and achieving desired results. If your message sounds too robotic and bureaucratic, is peppered with acronyms, and fails to clearly spell out what you need or expect, your message likely will get little or no attention. Consider enlisting your institutional marketing department or working with student advisory groups to help rewrite messages that will lead to better response rates and generate fewer questions that lead to office visits, phone calls, or emails.
Using a multi-channel communications strategy not only will be more appealing to students’ varying preferences but will also most likely increase individual reads and actions. Whether using text messaging, portal checklists, or chat features, using different communication tools, both separately and in tandem, will help your institution reach students and also demonstrate your commitment to quality service delivery.
Let us review your institution’s current business practices and related communications. Together, we can develop a comprehensive program to help manage your student accounts receivables and communicate with your students in a service-friendly and compliant manner. Contact us today for a no-obligation consultation!
https://www.financialaidservices.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/regs-procedures.png 614 930 financialaidse https://www.financialaidservices.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/FAS-Stacked-Logo-02-300x127.png financialaidse2019-10-22 12:49:112022-09-30 10:35:22The Timing of Issuing a Federal Credit Balance & Recovering Unclaimed Federal Funds
Issuing a Federal Credit Balance
After the start of a term when student aid (including federal aid) has been disbursed to student accounts, most business offices issue credit balances to students within 14 days. That is, 14 calendar days, not business days. Why 14 days? A federal regulation[i] [ii]requires a school to pay directly to the student a federal aid credit balance within 14 days. Rather than determine whether any portion of a credit balance is a federal credit balance, most schools have incorporated the 14 day rule in their procedures without consideration of the source of funds. (Note: If the federal credit balance is attributable to a PLUS loan, the funds are returned to the parent, unless the parent authorized that the student receive the refund.)
So what is a federal credit balance? Simply put, subtract all federal grant and loan student aid from allowable charges, e.g., tuition, fees, room/board (provided by the institution), other educationally related charges (with student authorization), and, if any, up to $200 of carried forward, prior-year charges. If student aid remains, there is a federal credit balance. Be careful. The calculation is based solely on allowable charges and federal student aid credits for a term. Allowable charges are strictly defined by federal regulation[iii].
Some institutions may hold a credit balance beyond 14 days, if the credit balance includes non-federal funds. The institution may have a policy or procedure that allows it to hold a credit balance on a student’s account for a specified period, e.g., after a certain point in the term or until the end of term or academic year. This may be offered as an option for students who find it helpful for budgeting to cover future charges, or for those receiving nonfederal aid intended to cover more than one term.
To hold a federal credit balance the institution must have a signed authorization (that complies with federal rules[iv]) from the student (or parent, if applicable). The student (or parent) cannot be required or coerced to authorize the hold of a federal credit balance. In any case, even if an institution has an authorization to hold funds, it must release any federal funds to the student (or parent, if applicable):
- by the end of the loan period, if the federal credit balance is federal loan monies, or
- by the end of the last term of the award year in which the student was enrolled, if the federal credit balance is other federal aid.
Note: If the federal credit balance includes both grant and loan, these two timeframes will not necessarily coincide.
Institutions that promptly issue credit balances are doing the right thing, but must keep a watchful eye for student aid adjustments to student accounts. Federal aid adjustments can occur within the term; after a student’s withdrawal; and/or after the end of a term, an award year, or loan period. It can be maddening to manage. If there is a negative aid adjustment, a balance may be created on a student account that must be collected. If there is a positive aid adjustment, there may be a credit balance to process.
Note: A federal credit balance occurs whenever the total amount of federal aid credited to a student’s account for the term exceeds the amount of allowable charges (as federally defined) for the term.
Recovering Unclaimed Federal Funds
As maddening as adjustments can be, monitoring a failed transaction of a credit balance refund is equally frustrating and requires action, i.e., a rejected electronic fund transfer (EFT), a non-deposited or non-deliverable check, or an unprocessed credit balance on a student account. This is particularly troublesome if the credit balance includes federal student aid funds, because there are federal rules[v] for the recovery of unclaimed federal funds.
If a failed transaction includes federal student aid funds, the institution can either attempt to issue the transaction again or must return the federal aid to the appropriate federal program(s) within 45 days. Yes, 45 calendar days, not business days.
There is a federal provision that allows an institution to make more attempts to disburse the aid, but each attempt must be made within 45 days of a failed attempt. When the institution stops trying to return funds to the student (or parent, if applicable), it must return the unclaimed federal student aid funds to the appropriate federal program within 45 days of the last failed attempt. There is a limit to the total number of days in which attempts can be made. The institution must cease all attempts to disburse the funds and return the funds to the respective federal aid program(s) no later than 240 days after the initial date it issued the first check or EFT.
Of course, the business office has to determine what portion of the credit balance is federal aid. If the federal credit balance includes more than one type of federal aid, the institution has to determine to which program(s) and in what order, it will return funds.
Note: Federal regulations are silent on the order in which federal funds must be returned. However, the U.S. Department of Education strongly suggests that an institution act in the best interest of the student. That is, return loan funds before grant monies.
A best practice for recovery of unclaimed federal funds is to review at least monthly:
- EFT transactions,
- non-deposited and non-delivered checks, and
- student accounts for unprocessed credit balances.
The business office will need a customized program or report to calculate by term the allowable charges, federal aid disbursed (excluding Federal Work-Study earnings), and the resulting balance of federal aid, if any.
If there are unclaimed funds to process, take the following steps:
- Business Office: Notify the Financial Aid Office that federal unclaimed funds must be returned to the respective federal program(s).
- Financial Aid: Authorize the downward adjustment amount to disbursed fund(s) on the student account.
- Business Office: Process the negative disbursement. Check that the federal credit balance is reversed on the student account.
- Financial Aid: Ensure the downward adjustment in disbursed amount has been submitted and accepted by the Common Origination and Disbursement (COD) system, if appropriate.
- Business Office and Financial Aid: Reconcile the federal aid account(s).
- Business Office: Transmit the unclaimed funds to the federal payment system (G-5), if appropriate.
The business office must always be alert to ensure that federal student aid credit balances are released on a timely basis (14 days) and, if those funds go unclaimed, to ensure that they are never escheated to a state, or revert back to the institution or any other third party. They must be returned to the appropriate federal program(s).
Failure to properly, accurately, and timely administer federal credit balances and/or repay unclaimed federal student aid funds could result in audit or program review findings citing an institution for lack of administrative capability and/or fiscal responsibility, and for having inadequate internal controls. Sanctions also may include fines or other types of enhanced oversight.
[ii] 34 CFR 668.164(h) – Title IV, HEA credit balances
[iii] 34 CFR 668.164(c) — Crediting a student’s ledger account, includes definition of Allowable Charge
[iv] 34 CFR 668.165(b) — Student or parent authorizations
[v] 34 CFR 668.164(l) — Returning funds
Or go to: Federal Student Aid Handbook 2018-2019, U.S. Department of Education, Volume 4—Processing Aid and Managing FSA Funds, Chapter 2 – Disbursing FSA Funds, pages 4-43 through 4-47 (Allowable Charges and Federal Credit Balances), page 4-51 (Authorization to Hold Federal Funds), and pages 4-49 and 4-50.(Recovery of Unclaimed Federal Funds)
Link to: https://ifap.ed.gov/fsahandbook/attachments/1819FSAHbkVol4Ch2.pdf