Earlier this week, those with the FAAC® designation tackled a tough conversation about NASFAA's recently released survey on staffing shortages in the financial aid office.
The survey underscored just how acute financial aid staffing issues have become, with nearly 80% of respondents voicing concern about their ability to be administratively capable in the future, and more than half (56%) saying they are concerned about their ability to adequately serve students with current staffing levels. Additionally, respondents said permanent, full-time employees most often cited a higher salary or better benefits as a main reason for transferring or resigning.
"Salary is a concern with financial aid advisors," said JoEllen Price, FAAC® and executive director of financial aid at Houston Community College. Price said she saw the writing on the wall and started advocating for staff raises in 2021, and she was able to persuade leadership.
Others FAACs report less success, whether it was due to working within HR constraints or still recovering from budget cuts prior to the pandemic.
An overwhelming majority (86%) of aid offices also reported not receiving enough qualified applicants. The challenge of hiring qualified staff with aid experience has been made more challenging by a fading Federal Work-Study pipeline, some FAACs noted.
Jenn Satalino, FAAC and director of The College Place-Oregon, asked the group how aid administrators can start looking for candidates outside of an established work-study avenue. Customer service skills were top of mind for the participants when thinking about qualified candidates.
Patti Kohler, FAAC and vice president of financial aid at Western Governors University, said the university hires many staff members who have prior customer service experience.
"We pride ourselves on being the most student-centric university, and this translates to serving our students well," she said. "We'll teach financial aid, but we can't teach attitude."
Price agreed about the importance of transferable skills, and said that she is analyzing her department's job descriptions to include a greater emphasis on customer service.
As the conversation continued, the group explored topics such as administrative capability, flexible work arrangements, and student interaction.
Katrina Lee, director of financial aid and veteran services at Wayne Community College, reminded the group that these challenges can be different depending on the institution. Lee mentioned it can be difficult to attract candidates to rural areas, in addition to salary issues.
With various hurdles, attendees reported that some individuals do not leave solely for salary, but because they want to be more present in their family and personal life. One aspect that many participants identified as a need for their office and campus was a critical examination of remote and hybrid work policies, which may make their jobs more competitive.
"I have one employee who is a single mother that relies on a difficult public transportation system," said Meredith Schor, FAAC and director of financial aid at The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. Schor explained that the ability to remote work was a game changer for this individual.
By the end of the conversation, it was clear that this group of individuals was focused on doing the best they could for both their staff and students.
"Prioritizing — we need to let our employees know they come first, then their family, then their job," Schor said.
Publication Date: 6/3/2022