Q&A With Justin Chase Brown, Chair of the Staffing and Benchmarking Task Force 

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Senior Staff Reporter

Mr. Justin Chase  Brown

With the Staffing and Benchmarking Task Force’s work now under way, chair Justin Chase Brown spoke with NASFAA about the task force’s upcoming plans.

The purpose of the Staffing and Benchmarking Task Force is to determine what, if any, changes are needed to NASFAA’s Benchmarking Survey and Report, as well as to explore what data already exists, through publicly available federal data sets, and could be cross walked with survey responses in order to reduce the data collection burden on respondents.

The task force’s suggested changes helped to inform the 2022 NASFAA Benchmarking Survey, which was sent to primary contacts on December 5. The task force will also provide feedback on the structure and layout of the 2023 NASFAA Benchmarking Report as it is being developed during.

Justin is currently director of scholarships and financial aid at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and co-founded the Twitter-based #FAchat, which is an open forum for financial aid administrators, policymakers, researchers, or others interested in the financial aid world. #FAchat was recognized at the 2013 NASFAA Annual Conference with a Gold Star Award for innovation. He is passionate about employing data analysis and technology to improve operations and aid delivery and is deeply committed to excellence in the financial aid profession and in advocating for innovative practices.

Read on to find out more about Justin’s mission for the Staffing and Benchmarking Task Force.

What is the issue this task force is trying to address?

JCB: The Staffing and Benchmarking Task Force addresses the subject of financial aid office staffing levels, models, resource support, and common issues from institutions across the country and segmented by sector, size, and institution type to provide financial aid leaders the knowledge of where their institution stands in comparison.

The task force is charged with reviewing and updating the national survey sent by NASFAA to member institutions, which results in the release of a benchmarking report. In the past, NASFAA created its first version of this work in 1995 and has updated it twice: in 2015 when the former Salary Model Survey and Staffing Model Report were combined and a section on campus relations was added, and again in 2018 when NASFAA began utilizing the CUPA-HR (College and University Professional Association for Human Resources’) survey data, which includes salary data uploaded directly from HR departments at institutions.

How will the task force help current and future aid directors advocate within their campus?

JCB: The results of this task force will help current and future aid directors with some of the most relevant issues affecting our industry today with some insight into how institutions across the country are handling these same issues, especially when it comes to the staffing and organizational environment since the COVID-19 pandemic, which disrupted a lot of campus financial aid offices and staffing levels.

We also know that many aid administrators have expressed their concern of their ability to remain administratively capable of meeting Title IV aid requirements. It’s important for us to know how common of a problem this is and how we might be able to address it together.

What are some unique staffing challenges that have hindered higher education and financial aid offices since the onset of the pandemic?

JCB: Working in financial aid is very technical and student-centric. While sometimes these jobs are segmented, at many schools, it requires staff who can succeed in both areas, which can be challenging to recruit, train, and retain. Meanwhile, affordability and the cost of higher education, especially since the onset of the pandemic, has become a heightened issue for many students and their families across the country.

With colleges and universities needing to educate the workforce and maintain or grow enrollments, it’s important that staffing be addressed, especially in the financial aid offices. Financial aid offices can be impacted by budget cuts and staff turnover differently than other areas of higher education because of the amount of technical work and training required, from constantly changing regulations to software changes, requiring a high level of expertise and experience. A failure in financial aid can have a much larger institutional impact on audits and compliance and overall enrollment than many other areas of campus.

Why did you decide to serve on this task force?

JCB: I decided to work on this task force when I noticed the impact COVID was having on the industry. Financial aid offices were trying to return to full staffing while so many changes were on the horizon, with FAFSA simplification, college affordability, and student loan debt relief in the headlines, as well as changes with athletic scholarships and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

Financial aid administrators need a lot of bandwidth to cover all of the topics that affect financial aid and can affect institutional compliance with maintaining Title IV eligibility. The effects of the pandemic at a time when so many other changes are going on in the industry concern me, not only for how other organizations will handle these issues, like Federal Student Aid or the NCAA, but also how institutions will respond and be able to manage the changes. 

What challenges do you think the task force will face?

JCB: I think the biggest challenge with our task force, which is diversely represented, is working through benchmarking and staffing for a variety of institutions. There are some issues that affect all of us and there are some that only affect a small portion of schools. Some are well-resourced and some are not. My goal is that we can build a survey instrument that all NASFAA members will want to provide their input and use as a tool so we can get an idea of how the industry is handling the most important issues of our time.

Overall, I’m excited to share that this survey should be shorter and easier to complete than ever before. All primary member contacts will be encouraged to complete the survey in the coming weeks and I encourage everyone to respond.


Publication Date: 12/12/2022

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