As financial aid offices deal with FAFSA simplification, administrative burden, staffing shortages, and more, a new survey found that a majority of financial aid professionals say they’re at least somewhat likely to look for other employment within a year.
The survey, administered by the College & University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR), was created to better understand the factors underlying the retention crisis in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. NASFAA has also conducted its own surveys, which found that many financial aid offices are struggling to remain in compliance with federal regulations and meet the needs of students due to staffing shortages.
The first iteration of the survey was published last year. For this year’s survey, CUPA-HR analyzed data from 4,782 higher education employees, with financial aid staff making up 6.2% of the respondents.
CUPA-HR noted that during the 2022-23 academic year, voluntary turnover for staff in higher education was the highest it has been since the organization started tracking it in 2017-18.
And across different higher education departments, more than half of employees (56%) said they are at least somewhat likely to look for other jobs, and one-third (33%) said they are likely or very likely to look for other employment.
When it comes to financial aid professionals specifically, 22.5% said they were somewhat likely to look for other employment within the next year, 15.4% said they were likely, and 17.8% said they were very likely. The most common reasons why higher education professionals may be likely to look for other employment is for pay and salary increases, the opportunity to work remotely, and the opportunity for a promotion.
For those in financial aid who responded that they were likely to seek new employment, 78.3% said they would look for opportunities at other higher education institutions, 59% said at a non-profit organization outside of higher education, and 54.8% said at a private for-profit company.
When looking at different aspects of the work environment for financial aid professionals, a majority (55.6%) agreed or strongly agreed that they’re satisfied with their job. Additionally, 82.8% agreed or strongly agreed that their work has purpose, 74.7% agreed or strongly agreed that they have a good relationship with their supervisor, and 72.9% agreed or strongly agreed that they’re satisfied with their work. However, a majority of financial aid professionals (50.7%) disagreed or strongly disagreed that they’re paid fairly.
And when it comes to different aspects of an institutional environment, 77.1% of financial aid professionals agreed or strongly agreed that they are safe from violence and crime, and 76.4% agreed or strongly agreed that they are safe from health infections and problems. However, 47.3% of financial aid professionals disagreed or strongly disagreed that they have opportunities for advancement, and 34.5% disagreed or strongly disagreed that their institution is invested in their career development.
A majority of financial aid professionals also said they are working additional hours beyond their full-time expectations. CUPA-HR noted that of the 13 different higher education departments analyzed, financial aid had the third highest percentage of employees working additional hours, at 54%.
Specifically, 46.3% of financial aid professionals said they work at or below full-time hours each week. But 22.4% of professionals say they work an additional 1-5 hours each week, 19.4% work an additional 6-10 hours, and 7.1% work an additional 11-15 hours. Over 4% say they work 16 hours or more each week.
CUPA-HR noted in its report that the percentage of employees working additional hours declined between 2022 and 2023 across all higher education departments except for financial aid, where the amount of employees working additional hours remained unchanged.
Additionally, across all higher education departments, 34.5% of all respondents are unsatisfied or very unsatisfied with their remote work policy, which CUPA-HR notes is often a benefit that provides employees with better work-life balance. For financial aid professionals specifically, 81.9%, said their work duties can be done remotely.
Looking at financial aid professionals’ current work arrangements, a majority (67.8%) work completely or mostly on site, 23.2% have a hybrid work schedule, and 9.1% work completely or mostly remote. However, 29.9% of financial aid professionals would prefer to work remotely and just 23.5% prefer working completely or mostly working in-person.
As for what higher education institutions could do to retain employees that might be looking for other employment, CUPA-HR recommended that institutions reduce the overwork of their employees.
“Increasing the scope of responsibilities of current employees, insisting they absorb the responsibilities of other staff who have left, and demanding they regularly work more than full-time hours — all without corresponding and appropriate salary increases and promotions — is a recipe that will encourage your retention crisis to continue,” CUPA-HR wrote.
For more specific recommendations and resources for aid offices on how to navigate staffing shortages, NASFAA has the Advancing the Profession Toolkit. Members can also volunteer to join NASFAA’s Career Path Awareness for Financial Aid Administrators Thought Force, which is working on how to attract individuals into the financial aid profession.
Additionally, institutions should provide pay increases that are “regular and meaningful,” provide more flexible work arrangements, and meet “basic job satisfaction tenets,” such as providing a sense of value and belonging, the CUPA-HR report said. CUPA-HR President and CEO Andy Brantley urged institution leaders to do a “better job of positioning their organizations as employers of choice in what will continue to be a highly competitive job market.”
“Employees expect meaningful work, competitive pay, reasonable working hours, greater schedule flexibility and benefits structured to meet the needs of today’s employees,” Brantley said in a statement. “As noted in this report, leaders throughout an institution must meaningfully focus on all of these challenges and opportunities every single day.”
Publication Date: 9/15/2023