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Articles: Financial Aid

From managing loans to controlling spending, many college students find themselves dealing with a host of financial responsibilities for the very first time. And it’s not uncommon for them to trip up.

Campus financial literacy programs can help students steer clear of some of their most common financial mistakes. The challenge for educators is to find creative and clever ways to get their attention.

Many colleges are advising students how they can save money with digital and used textbooks.

As costly as tuition and textbooks can be, poor planning and time management can raise the prices even higher.

Richard O’Connor, director of financial aid at American International College in Massachusetts, says students at that institution have several options for saving on books. “About half of our students are low income, so just paying tuition can be challenging.”

Jacqueline Gregory is director of enrollment management marketing for RuffaloCODY.

These days, institutions can’t say they fully “control” their recruitment and enrollment process—but they can adjust to how prospective students and their families are navigating it.

At Texas Christian University, where there have been six suicides in the last three years, training staff to recognize the warning signs of suicide is considered an imperative. And because paying for an education is a major stressor for students, TCU has had every employee in its financial aid office trained in a detection method known as QPR.

Being a financial aid administrator is an accident waiting to happen these days. The soaring costs for college have produced a soaring amount of applications for assistance, creating a constant stream of traffic at the Financial Aid Office. There are times when it resembles an all-day rush hour, with students and parents in a hurry to get in and get out with some part of the gold they’re convinced is hidden there.

New financial literacy programs aim to reduce student default rate. (Getty Images.com/MCT Graphics via Getty Images)

A spooky cloud of crimson smoke dramatizes the dread of overwhelming student debt in “The Red,” a short movie thriller created for SALT, the American Student Assistance financial literacy program for students and alumni.

Less dramatic but noteworthy still, college students logging onto the National Endowment for Financial Education’s CashCourse can take a “Financial Realities” quiz to test their knowledge. In the opening question, they’re asked what will have the worst impact on their finances: gourmet coffee drinks, borrowing money, or spending without a plan.

The interest in financial literacy has expanded beyond the financial office, which is where Lyssa Thaden, financial education content manager at American Student Assistance, used to focus her pitches.

“Now, at a stakeholder meeting, I’ll have someone from the financial aid office but also someone from admissions and enrollment management,” says Thaden, who consults with school sponsors of SALT, ASA’s financial literacy program. “The marketing folks show up, the residence life people show up, and even alumni.”

“If you build it, they probably won’t come.” That’s Sara Wilson’s take on the launch of the typical campus financial literacy program. As financial literacy project manager at USA Funds, she knows firsthand how many students participate and what they think later as they look back.

While numerous post-graduation surveys by the company show students regret not learning more about personal finance while they were in school, they also tend not to access financial literacy information when it’s offered on a completely voluntary basis, Wilson says.

More higher ed leaders are concerned about maintaining enrollment levels at the same time Census numbers have revealed that colleges and universities lost half a million students in 2012. A drop-off had been anticipated for some time, but now institutions must scramble to manage.

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:

There’s been much buzz about what the new student loan legislation means for students. It lowered interest rates and made borrowing more affordable in the short term, but how will it affect colleges and universities?

Signed into law by President Obama on Aug. 9 after a summer of negotiations, the bill allows undergraduates to borrow at a 3.9 percent rate for subsidized and unsubsidized federal loans.

Student loan debt is topping $1 trillion, and borrowers aren’t the only ones with reason to be concerned. While higher education leaders aren’t responsible for the loans, they also have a stake in getting rising debt and default levels under control.

Megan McClean, director of policy and federal relations for the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, says the first reason for concern about debt is simply that administrators care about students and want them to succeed.

When the Debt Reduction Task Force at The University of Texas System was gathering data for a report released last December, one of the most surprising findings for chairman Scott Kelley was the strong correlation between students who default and those who don’t complete their degrees.

Casual observers of the 2013 National Association of Student Aid Administrators conference in Las Vegas this summer may have felt as if they were seeing double, with all the talk of “prior-prior year” income tax.

Stable funding of federal Pell Grants, one of the nation’s main financial aid programs for low-income students, would increase affordability and accessibility, according to many groups with a stake in higher education. But despite its decades-long history of assisting financially needy students, the program also faces perennial threats to its funding.

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