Impact of a Changing Campus Environment on the Financial Aid Office

By David Tolman, Training & Regulatory Assistance Staff

Financial aid administrators are used to change. While said changes typically involve Title IV regulations, other changes occur outside of regulation. During two sessions held at the 2015 NASFAA National Conference, presenters and attendees discussed the resulting impacts such changes have on financial aid offices and offered suggestions to help deal with these emerging pressures on campus.

Many schools are taking advantage of advances in technology to introduce innovative new programs on their campuses. Administrators hope these new programs will attract new types of students. With increasing enrollment and financial pressures facing many campuses, finding new types of students offers hope of relieving some of those pressures.

However, these new programs don’t always blend well with other programs on campus. This creates challenges in disbursing and administering financial aid. Even worse, some of these new programs might be structured in such a way that students enrolled are not eligible for financial aid. One school found out about just such a program when a student showed up at the front desk, inquiring about his application. It turned out the student was enrolled in a program that the financial aid office never heard of. After making a quick phone call, neither had the Registrar. The financial aid office faced the unpleasant task of telling this student that he would not be able to receive assistance to make his past-due tuition payment. The ensuing discussion with the chair of the academic department offering the program was not pleasant either.

Other changes to the financial aid office have come from the NCAA’s decision to allow athletic scholarships to cover the full amount of the student’s cost of attendance (COA). In this case, financial aid directors are getting phone calls from areas of campus with a newfound interest in how the financial aid office calculates the COA. In some cases, these questions come with pressures to increase the COA to help with recruitment of student athletes. By contrast, other campus areas would like to see the COA kept low in order to help recruitment of academic students.

What is a financial aid office to do when caught in these emerging pressures on campus? Suggestions from these sessions included:

  • Know your stuff. If it is time to brush up on program eligibility or cost of attendance, do so.
  • Understand the NASFAA Code of Conduct and the ethical standards of your office or campus. Stand by those.
  • Maintain frequent and open communication with key campus areas.
  • Obtain support from top administration. Let them know your primary objective is to provide the best possible service to students.
  • Set formal, written agreements regarding responsibilities. If a new program requires gainful employment reporting, document who will be responsible for the different aspects of tracking and disclosure.

These were some of the many suggestions that came about from discussing the impacts a changing campus environment can have on the financial aid office. In many cases, financial aid administrators will need to create and maintain new relationships across campus while communicating the message that we are here to help, explaining our constraints, and proposing that we and other departments should work together cross-departmentally.

 

Publication Date: 8/13/2015


Robert P | 8/13/2015 12:11:55 PM

The athletic issue is not a new issue. I have had issues with coaches trying to seek "exceptions" for athletes for over 20 years. It is interesting how they only do it for top players not the so-so player. The key points here are valid. You need to ethically provide equitable service to all students, you need your VP and President's support. If your President is a big athletic supporter it can get very intense so document everything. You can also find a good ally in your Admissions/Registrar's administrator. They get asked all the time to make exceptions to policy and procedures to accommodate athletes. They can give you good advice on how to manage the situations.

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