Five Methods to Finance Consultant Help

By Mandy Sponholtz, Blue Icon Advisors Director of Operations

Paying for a consulting engagement can be a heavy lift financially for some schools. As a result, it can take years to convince those who hold the purse strings that completing your policies and procedures manual, having a compliance or operational review, or evaluating student satisfaction is worth the investment. It is necessary to think strategically about how to finance your consulting project — here are five methods you may use.

WarningPerform a Risk Assessment

If it has been more than 10 years since your last federal program review, or if you have any heightened risk factors for a review, performing a risk assessment may help you justify the funds for a consulting project. Federal program reviews can result in financial fines and liabilities to the institution. "The purpose of a fine is to punish an institution for its misconduct and to deter that institution, as well as other institutions, from committing similar violations in the future, whereas a liability is established in the amount of federal student aid program funds that an institution improperly received or disbursed and therefore must repay" (School Fine Report, Definitions). Engaging in an evaluation of your financial aid office  can help your school reduce the risk of multiple, higher fines that could result from a federal program review.

ClockPlan Ahead, But Don't Ignore the Present

It is never too early to think about next year's budget. Have conversations with your finance colleagues now to learn how to build the strongest case to add the cost of a consulting project to your budget for the upcoming year. But closely watch your expenditures for this year. When you look at your expenses at the end of the second or third quarter, maybe your expenses were not as high as you expected and it appears you will end the year with extra funds. If the amount will be enough to cover the cost of consultation help, move quickly to obtain the necessary approvals and work with Blue Icon to secure your project in order to use those funds before the end of the fiscal year.

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Engage in a Lower-Cost Project

It may be difficult initially to justify the cost of a large-scale project to your administration. In these situations, starting with a smaller evaluation may help you justify future consultation projects. Blue Icon projects can be customized to meet your budgetary needs. Most projects are conducted completely off-site via videoconference, so there are no travel expenses.

Building

Use Your Administrative Cost Allowance

Regulations allow schools to receive an Administrative Cost Allowance (ACA) to help cover the costs of administering the federal Pell Grant and campus-based aid programs. To successfully administer these programs, the Department of Education (ED) requires schools to meet all standards of administrative capability, which includes complying with all statutory and regulatory provisions, as well as published guidance. While you cannot use the ACA to pay for professional memberships (such as those for NASFAA, regional, or state financial aid associations), there is nothing in regulation or published guidance prohibiting you from using the ACA to pay for services that help your school remain in compliance with Title IV rules and regulations. You may consider combining the use of your ACA with budgeting over time as well.

PiggybankSave Over Time

Think for a moment about the various insurance policies you may have: life, auto, home, renters. You pay the premiums on these policies once or twice a year, so you may save a little money each month to cover the cost when the bill comes. You can apply the same methodology to your consulting project. It may be easier to add a smaller amount to your budget each year, rather than a one-time lump sum. For example, if your budget can withstand an increase that will allow you to have a Standards of Excellence review in five years, split the cost of the review and travel expenses over that interval and add that amount to your budget request each year. This method also works well if you want to have an evaluation or consultation periodically, such as every five or seven years, because the amount is already established in your budget.

The first step in determining which of these strategies will be best for your school and budget is to contact Blue Icon to discuss your needs by submitting a request form, emailing [email protected], or calling 202-785-6953.

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