Securing Applications for Financial Aid is as Important as Processing Them in a Timely Manner

John W. Dysart, President
The Dysart Group

Demonstrating to all students and their families how they can afford to pay for college is extremely important.  Colleges and universities must make sure that they have financial aid processing operations that guarantee that both currently enrolled students and prospective students are packaged in a timely manner.

Quick processing is a good start but is insufficient.  Financial aid offices must also be charged with actively encouraging all students to apply for financial aid as early as possible.

The financial aid team at Purdue University Fort Wayne took aggressive steps this cycle to encourage aid applications and to package students quickly.  Historically, the bulk of current students and admission applicants applied for financial aid late and were not packaged until the summer.

Dr. Krissy Creager, Associate Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Management and Student Success, implemented significant changes in process and policy this cycle in order to improve outcomes.

  • The emphasis on early application and early packaging was explained to team members in the Financial Aid Office as well as key personnel involved with admission and student success.
  • New weekly reports were created to track success in encouraging both new and returning students to apply for financial aid. That same report tracked progress in packaging students applying for financial aid.  In addition, the report tracked progress in collecting any required documents necessary for disbursement.  The weekly report informed decision-making on strategies and tactics designed to get all students to apply for financial aid early.
  • Creager scheduled five FAFSA Completion events on campus to assist currently enrolled students with the application process. The key to the success of these events was advertising and publicity.  The team ensured that the events received both print and television coverage.  Professionals and computers were made available from 4:40-7:30 each evening to help students apply for financial aid.
  • A series of reminder postcards were designed and mailed systematically to admission applicants and returning students who had not applied for financial aid.  
  • A systematic email campaign was utilized to encourage students to apply for financial aid.
  • Text messages were sent to students who had not applied for financial aid when mobile telephone numbers were available.
  • Admission counselors made telephone calls to admission applicants to remind them to apply for financial aid.
  • Academic advisors also participated in the process. Advisors could see which of their currently enrolled students had applied for financial aid and they could incorporate reminders and encouragement in their communication with their advisees.  The advisors encouraged their students to apply for financial aid by making telephone calls and sending email and text messages.
  • Creager involved faculty members in the process. Faculty were educated regarding the importance of financial aid for retention.  Faculty were reminded that applying for financial aid is an important predictor of full-time enrollment.  Email reminders were sent each month to faculty to keep the importance of financial aid at the forefront of their minds as they worked to improve retention.
  • A social media campaign was designed and introduced. The institution utilized Facebook and Twitter pushes to encourage students to apply for financial aid early.
  • FAFSA completion postcards were placed at the Enrollment Services front desk along with instructions to remind every visiting student to apply for financial aid.
  • Website banners were posted on the financial aid section of the website and appeared in rotating positions on the University homepage.

The success of all the initiatives is apparent when one considers the percentage of students who had applied for financial aid by May 15, 2018.  The financial aid application rates are among the highest I have seen that early in the cycle.

While leadership must be commended, kudos must also be lauded on the financial aid team that accomplished this while completely changing the scholarship program, the financial aid process, hiring three new team members and completing eight financial aid audits!

Well done!