Welcome to University Business's special report on student finance, the first of a regular series of special reports on the subject. Student finance has long been an important aspect of the business of higher education, but in the past few years we've seen it become more and more central to the way that institutions operate, to the point where it seems to us that everyone on senior administrative levels-everyone who has an impact on institutional strategy-needs to be thinking about the Financial Aid office and how it fits in. This magazine, of course, takes the position that senior administrators need to be broadly knowledgeable about most things that happen in a college or university. But today we see an exceptional need for information about student finance. Why? I can think of at least three reasons:
(1) One of the biggest issues for higher education in the new century is in resolving the competing claims of altruism and business realism, and the Financial Aid office is where the conflict plays out most clearly. Here's the office that provides access to higher education for those who cannot afford it, advancing education's goals of fairness and social mobility-higher education at its noblest and most altruistic. At the same time (at least at many institutions), it's the office that serves to leverage institutional resources, letting the institution lure the best possible student body while maximizing net tuition-operating with a level of market orientation that makes many within higher ed distinctly uncomfortable. It's the office through which the institution gives, and simultaneously, the office in which the game of institutional marketing turns to hardball. Whichever side-or whichever compromise-you ultimately choose for your institution, it's important to understand why others have made the choices they've made.
(2) The future for most colleges and universities will include greater use of outside suppliers, outsourcing, shared materials, and so forth, presented seamlessly to students under the institution's brand. On the instructional side, this future is still a few years away. In the Financial Aid office-which processes federal, state, and institutional aid, and increasingly deals with outside lenders and loan processors-it's already here. Your Financial Aid office has learned hard lessons about communications, sharing data, meeting regulations, and managing processes. They've become a resource you can't afford to ignore.
(3) Higher education is still learning to take advantage of technology-especially, these days, the technology that manages transactions. In this area, thanks partly to the federal government's initiatives, the Financial Aid office is on the cutting edge. A handful of offices have already gone paperless, processing applications, signing promissory notes, and disbursing funds online. Many others are just behind them, and again, the knowledge they've developed is a valuable institutional resource.
We hope you enjoy this new UB special section. And we hope that if your institution is doing something in the area of student finance that would interest and help other schools, you'll let us know about it. You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.