For a school to operate at peak efficiency—and best serve students—it is necessary for various administrative departments to understand the purpose and daily operations of other offices. In particular, the activities and regulations that impact the financial aid office can have widespread effects on the rest of the campus. With that in mind, here are 10 tips to help all departments work cohesively with the financial aid office:
1. Learn the job responsibilities and role of the financial aid office. This can help you know where to direct questions or where to steer students if their needs are out of the purview of your office. Ask to sit in on the financial aid office’s staff meetings occasionally—you’ll be surprised at how much you can learn about the way financial aid administrators operate and how many campus issues overlap between your office and theirs.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Federal and state financial aid programs—even your institution’s own aid programs—can be very confusing for those who do not work with them every day. Your school’s financial aid office is not just a resource for students. It is also there to help with any questions you may have.
3. Take the initiative. Invite the financial aid office into the decision-making process within your office. Including aid administrators in the conversation opens the door for fresh input and gives a more holistic view of the students’ situation. Listen with an open mind; don’t be quick to pass judgment. Be willing to change and/or make reasonable adjustments to procedures based on what you learn.
4. Meet regularly. Whether formal or informal, these meetings can be a beneficial way for financial aid administrators to relay information on new federal regulations that could impact other offices’ interactions with students. Other offices can also use the opportunity to pick the brains of financial aid experts, ask questions about key areas of overlap (veteran’s affairs comes to mind!) and get clarity on the workings of financial aid and how it impacts other aspects of higher education.
5. Communicate regularly. Higher education is a constantly changing world and people are always moving around. What may be big staff news in your department may only be a blip on the financial aid office’s radar. Let them know when something important is happening in your world, such as an employee’s departure or a new hire, and ask that they also share staffing information.
Better communication improves efficiencies between departments and can often provide vital information to students looking for just the right person to answer their questions.
6. Keep your commitments and meet deadlines. The world of financial aid runs on deadlines set by the Department of Education, your state, and your institution. If a mutual deadline poses problems for your department, make sure to convey the need for new deadlines in advance. Seek solutions to problems in a collaborative way.
7. Share updates on regulatory and legislative policy changes. A rule change in your department may impact the financial aid process. It will make everyone’s jobs easier if you are all on the same page and have the same information.
8. Avoid the use of jargon and encourage the financial aid office to do the same. Higher education functions much more smoothly on the back end when everyone is speaking the same language. Jargon can be especially confusing to students and by avoiding it among your colleagues you are more likely to avoid it with students.
9. Be patient. The financial aid process can be slow, and answers may not be immediately available. Establish a system to designate a priority level for information you need from financial aid. This helps administrators determine how to allocate their resources and provide information in a timely manner.
10. Acknowledge their efforts. It takes a village to run a university and, at the end of the day, all offices are working toward the same goal—serving students.
Brittany Hackett is a web reporter and editor at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, www.nasfaa.org.