Tag Archive for: Student experience
https://www.financialaidservices.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/04/Blog-image-designs-01.jpg 1312 2500 Julia Francis https://www.financialaidservices.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/FAS-Stacked-Logo-02-300x127.png Julia Francis2023-04-11 14:46:152023-04-12 12:40:03Is Financial Aid a Process or an Experience?
https://www.financialaidservices.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/Techie_Speed-2.png 396 938 Ken Garrett https://www.financialaidservices.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/FAS-Stacked-Logo-02-300x127.png Ken Garrett2023-02-08 08:14:522023-02-08 08:17:02The Need for Speed
By: Robert Heil, CEO
Students expect a combination of personalization with the speed that they experience from Amazon or DoorDash. Without that speed, students are less likely to stay engaged with you, and less engagement leads to recruitment and retention challenges. This can be especially challenging for financial aid and student accounts offices where speed + quality + accuracy must be delivered at scale.
Whether it be wait times, responding to their initial inquiry, offering admission first, or processing aid faster and sending an offer notice first–students reward speed.
If students love speed, what does speed love? Efficiency.
Providing a more efficient enrollment experience for students and parents must be a critical element in your comprehensive enrollment management strategy. No amount of marketing can offset an inefficient process. This is the pitfall too many campuses fall in. You can spend (or waste) hundreds of thousands of dollars on enrollment marketing, yet your greatest competitive advantage may be uncovering the efficiency and organizational capability needed to deliver customization and speed at scale.
You may not consider your financial aid and student accounts offices as major brand influencers, but you should. Mistakes and complications damage your brand. Your brand is not driven by US News & World Report rankings. Your brand is shaped by the student experience you deliver. When students and parents receive a streamlined, accurate experience, you strengthen your brand every time.
Websites that do not load in less than 6 seconds are usually abandoned. In the same vein, dissatisfied students will go elsewhere. Outside of academics, no other two offices on campus shape the student experience more than the financial aid and student accounts offices. Do your strategic investments in recruitment and retention reflect that?
Without speed + accuracy + quality, you are operating at a disadvantage.
Here are two ways we are helping our clients:
At FAS, we’ve spent 32 years mastering a model connecting the best people, processes, and systems to help our clients gain a competitive advantage. Our Outsourced Processing service combines our consultants, analysts, industry-leading practices, lean process methodology, and meticulous quality controls. These coupled with our technology platform provides the speed, accuracy, and quality your students expect. Using this service, your financial aid office can process aid exponentially faster with accuracy giving you a major competitive advantage with recruitment and retention.
Want to know where you stand? Our Organizational Capability Reviews for financial aid and student accounts offices can measure your business processes against best practices to discover where the major efficiency gains can be found. How well are you optimizing technology? How do your staffing levels stack up against benchmarks from peer institutions? Where can you improve the student experience? Don’t think of it as an audit. The goal is not to point out mistakes. The purpose is to find opportunities. We are “peer educators”. Our consultants come alongside to teach, coach, and roll up their sleeves to help.
To learn more, contact FAS to uncover how you can strengthen your financial operations, optimize enrollment, and enhance the student experience.
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/2022/11/Staffing-pointing.png 788 940 Ken Garrett https://www.financialaidservices.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/FAS-Stacked-Logo-02-300x127.png Ken Garrett2022-11-17 08:26:212022-11-17 08:26:21Administrative Capability, a Mammoth Challenge in Financial Aid’s Staffing Crisis
By: Bob Covey-Robbins, Consultant
What does it mean for an institution of higher education to be administratively capable? Why is it important? Whose job is it to ensure that a school complies with administrative capability requirements?
Administrative capability is carefully evaluated when a school’s application for certification or re-certification is reviewed by the Department of Education. The school must demonstrate administrative capability. 34CFR§668.16 extensively outlines the conditions for administrative capability. In short, it means that the institution has the people, expertise, systems, technology, policies, and procedures to effectively manage Federal Student Aid programs.
The institution must designate someone to be responsible for administering FSA programs, but it also must ensure that the person is supported by an adequate number of staff needed to effectively administer the programs. There is no specific formula for determining the number of staff needed. It must be determined by the number of students applying for financial aid, the various financial aid programs the school administers, the technology used, and how much administration is automated.
Many schools are currently struggling to maintain an adequate number of staff to remain in compliance with the daunting number of Title IV statutory and regulatory requirements. According to a US Chamber of Commerce article, today, there are 2.9 million fewer people in the workforce than there were in February 2020, and even if every unemployed person were to gain employment, there would still be a labor shortage (Ferguson, 2022).
Has the financial aid office workload lessened with declining enrollment? Many would say that it has actually increased since the COVID-19 pandemic started. Expanding the modality of financial aid counseling to include remote advising, administering HEERF funds with its frequent changes in federal guidance and reporting requirements, and more recently, the addition of Fresh Start student loan default relief. The number of students seeking a Fresh Start at a school can bring a significant increase to the financial aid office workload.
Declining enrollment has led to decreases in operating budgets, making it even more difficult to retain valuable staff as more attractive employment opportunities arise outside of higher education administration. Creating entry-level financial aid office positions may add staff, but those staff need extensive training, supervision, and coaching as they become proficient in their new role. For many schools, the cost of new aid officer training programs offered by state, regional, and national associations is out of reach.
The harsh reality for many financial aid offices is that they are facing the perfect storm of increased demand for services, staffing vacancies, continuous audit pressures, shrinking budgets, and, ultimately, concern about maintaining the school’s eligibility to participate in federal student aid programs.
To provide the needed services to help families with financing higher education, while maintaining legislative and regulatory compliance, more schools are seeking interim staffing solutions. Services can range from filling a financial aid director’s role to outsourcing daily financial aid processing tasks. For many schools, using a trusted partner for interim staffing and outsourcing processing tasks provides a more cost-effective means to providing quality student service, while maintaining compliance and making a valuable contribution to the school’s enrollment management efforts.
https://www.financialaidservices.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/College-Transcript-1.png 788 940 Ken Garrett https://www.financialaidservices.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/FAS-Stacked-Logo-02-300x127.png Ken Garrett2022-11-02 08:16:062022-11-02 08:16:06CFPB Weighs In on Withholding Academic Transcripts
Withholding academic transcripts for outstanding student account or loan balances has been a primary debt collection tool for many years. Though recently under fire as harming many students (see our March 2022 Tip), this issue is drawing attention both from state regulators and legislators and, now, from the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). While 16 states have enacted laws or are proposing legislation to halt or reduce the campus practice, which is seen as inhibiting students’ academic careers or employment opportunities, the federal agency’s recent Supervisory Highlights report cites the “blanket” usage of the transcript sanction as unlawful.
The recent report came on the heels of an announcement earlier this year that the agency would examine operations of colleges that act as lenders. In this case, the CFPB has interpreted student accounts as a form of lending or credit offered to students by schools. While definitions may be subtle or subject to various interpretations, the CFPB report links transcript withholding to provisions under the Dodd-Frank Act, which prohibits unfair, deceptive or abusive acts and practices (UDAAP) because of potential financial injury to consumers.
Though the CFPB cannot enact laws, it has rulemaking and enforcement authority to deal with any consumer financial product or service. The agency also partners with other federal departments on many financial initiatives, and could work with the U.S. Department of Education to potentially promulgate new rules or guidelines.
Senior leadership at colleges and universities should have this issue on their radar from both a service delivery and compliance perspective. Presidents, chief financial officers, registrars and enrollment management leaders need to understand and weigh their existing policies and procedures on withholding academic transcripts and other services. A joint statement signed this month by 22 higher education associations urges college leaders to “have a clear understanding of institutional policies regarding transcript and enrollment holds, and be prepared to explain how they determined these policies to be effective and fair.”
In states where no restrictions currently exist, government relations staff should be monitoring legislative activities since constituent complaints have often led to proposed laws. In other cases, complaints to state attorneys general may trigger new rules or legislation.
Institutions also should engage their general counsel or an outside attorney to help interpret these laws and requirements and adjust their business practices and policies to become and/or remain in compliance. Bringing institutional resources together to review and update policies and procedures can have a positive outcome for students and finances with minimal impact on institutional resources. The National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) and the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) provided guidelines for schools to consider in an April 2022 statement.
https://www.financialaidservices.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/10/Outsourcing27.png 788 940 Ken Garrett https://www.financialaidservices.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/FAS-Stacked-Logo-02-300x127.png Ken Garrett2022-10-12 08:09:292022-10-12 08:09:29Outsourcing Financial Aid: A Better Economic, Strategic, and Student-Centered Model
Processing financial aid records is one the most important yet complex steps for many financial aid offices. When not administered correctly or efficiently, it can create compliance risk or delays in students receiving their awards which has real enrollment and financial consequences. The recent staffing shortages throughout the industry have only magnified these challenges.
Many university presidents and CFO’s are exploring a new model – outsourcing their financial aid processing services. Those university leaders are discovering outsourcing is a better model for 4 reasons.
- It is a better economic model. University leaders can better control their costs in an outsourced model rather than carrying high costs associated with large staffs with frequent turnover. In addition to the cost savings, an outsourced processing model creates greater ROI. When financial aid is administered sooner, students receive their awards earlier which creates a real recruiting and retention advantage. Even a 2% gain in admit yield or a 2% increase in retention equates to noticeable gains in headcount and significant gains in net tuition revenue. The cost savings combined with greater ROI is why university leaders are discovering the outsourced partnership is a better economic model.
- It is a better strategic model. When the back office processing work is outsourced, financial aid staff are unconstrained to do what they do best – counsel students and parents. Key financial aid staff can focus on higher priority strategic initiatives that achieve operational, enrollment, and student experience goals. Those strategic priorities make a significant impact on the university.
- Students are better served. When financial aid files are processed sooner, students receive their financial aid awards earlier increasing their propensity to enroll as new students or return as current students. Parents and family members are more engaged and satisfied in the process. Student experience is directly correlated to recruitment and retention. Most financial aid leaders entered the profession, in the first place, to help make college affordable and accessible and to serve students. This model supports that goal.
- Peace of mind that the university is always in compliance. Besides the benefits of timely and accurate financial aid administration, university leaders who find a trusted strategic partner can rest assured their financial aid is administered in full compliance with the Department of Education.
Important factors to consider
- As a best practice, have the outsourced processing work completed in your student information and financial aid management system. Select a partner that is experienced and proficient in your technology system.
- Find a partner with deep industry experience and a long-standing track record of success with their clients and who is fortified by highly experienced consultants and team members. These are the strategic partners you want.
- Ask potential partners about their audit history. Those companies are audited each year just like universities.
- Ask potential partners about their quality control measures and processes. The best companies will quickly respond, providing the detailed quality control measures they have in place to ensure full compliance.
- Inquire whether the outsourced partner will just replicate your current processes or will they listen and work with you to make your current processes more efficient. Will they merge their best practices with your client-specific needs? If so, that is a good partnership.
At FAS, these are a few of the tenets and best practices we built our model on.
Financial aid processing is one of the most important steps in a financial aid operation. The current staffing struggles in most financial aid offices only makes this more challenging. Those staffing challenges show no signs of lessening anytime soon. But there is an alternative. It’s a better model too. From the initial application until the last dollar is disbursed, the right outsourced partner will make a significant impact on your financial, operational, and student experience goals.
https://www.financialaidservices.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/iStock-1387722594.jpg 966 1452 mertel https://www.financialaidservices.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/FAS-Stacked-Logo-02-300x127.png mertel2021-04-22 10:56:562022-09-30 09:49:55Handling Student Payments More Efficiently
Getting students to pay their tuition on time is challenging in normal times. During the COVID-19 pandemic, new barriers have arisen to receiving and processing these payments—and many other types of payments–quickly and efficiently. Despite efforts to work remotely to avoid spread of the virus, business officer staff still must come to campus to process and deposit checks. This can be stressful for students who want to make sure their payments were received on time. If your school uses a payment vendor or bank to receive and process its transactions, many students and families prefer to use traditional payment methods. It is important to promote the security and easeof-use provided with online payments.
Changing the culture of institutional payers is complex and requires clear and concise communications with both internal and external customers. How an institution describes options and communicates its preferences and expectations will set the tone for success or failure.
Maintaining quality customer service and enhancing cash flow is crucial to educational institutions, particularly during troubled times. Colleges and universities should be looking at existing processes to identify opportunities for improvements and efficiencies. To help your institution find solutions to enhance customer service, streamline cumbersome processes, and improve cash flow, please see our recent industry paper on Cashiering: Migrating from Cash and Checks to Digital Payments.
Want to improve your digital payment adoption rate?
Consider these steps:
- Examine current payment patterns to find opportunities
- Investigate business relationships with banks and payment vendors and if there are best practice solutions that your institution is not utilizing
- Review your customer communications to assure that messaging is clear, concise, and accurate
https://www.financialaidservices.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/shutterstock_226806484_students-walking-scaled.jpg 1707 2560 financialaidse https://www.financialaidservices.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/FAS-Stacked-Logo-02-300x127.png financialaidse2019-03-22 13:00:452022-09-30 10:47:57What’s In The Numbers
In over 31 years, we have seen many trends in higher education that were shaped by financial aid. Each year, students go through the application process. Unfortunately, hundreds of those students never go any further. Financial aid offices typically send a request for information but do not actively recruit these students. Data we have monitored for several years shows a direct correlation between early action and high interest level. Students who respond quickly to a financial aid information request, even from a college where they haven’t applied or been admitted, are expressing excitement about the institution.
Also, some colleges have measures financial aid applicants must take beyond the federal requirements. Recent research suggests the result is fewer students enrolling and a heightened possibility of non-compliance with the federal regulations. For colleges that award a significant amount of institutional aid, additional information may be necessary. If a college primarily offers federal grants, loans and student employment, using standard federal requirements has multiple benefits. This simplifies the process for the students and helps to eliminate access barriers. It also reduces the possible liabilities associated with extraneous and conflicting information. FAS works closely with our clients to help administer financial aid in a manner that is compliant and student-friendly. Contact us about assessing. your overall process or to discuss offloading some of the most time consuming parts of your operation.
https://www.financialaidservices.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/case-study-modern.png 433 783 Ken Garrett https://www.financialaidservices.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/08/FAS-Stacked-Logo-02-300x127.png Ken Garrett2018-10-18 12:07:112022-09-30 12:07:38FAS Helps Boost Student Satisfaction at NOVA
With more than 75,000 students and six campuses, Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) is the largest education institution in Virginia and the second largest in the U.S. NOVA is also one of the country’s most diverse colleges, with a student body consisting of individuals from more than 180 countries. For the past four years, NOVA’s financial aid office has been in a restructuring mode to better manage its double-digit growth in student enrollment and a dollar amount of financial aid that has tripled since 2008.
To serve students more effectively, NOVA contracted for a 24/7 call center, hired additional staff and reorganized its reporting structure. After working with a consultant, the college had not found the comprehensive support it needed with trained support people in one place to make sure everything was being done accurately and thoroughly. “We turned to FAS because it offered the whole package – professionalism, long-time experience in the business, a solid reputation and moderate cost,” said Director of Financial Aid Joan Zanders, a 26-year financial aid veteran. “We brought in FAS to provide analysis and file verification because we were not able to process the applications that came in during the summer peak season,” she said.
Zanders says the “domino effect” from working with FAS has positively impacted student enrollment at NOVA. “We are able to process more financial aid in a timely manner,” she said. “Because of the volume of work, federal regulations, and multiple reports related to the verification piece, we would have had to hire a whole lot more additional staff to keep all the balls in the air,” she said. “We have a close working relationship with FAS, including weekly recalls and status reports. We talk through issues and develop solutions.” Zanders is proud that a recent survey showed that 95 percent of NOVA students were satisfied with their financial aid service. Her office was ranked in the top five of all college offices for student satisfaction. “This doesn’t happen very often in financial aid,” she said. “FAS is extremely professional, and I can’t think of a better partner.”