Preparing for a New Financial Aid Season

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John W. Dysart
The Dysart Group, Inc.

It is that time of year again. Students and families are in the midst of the college selection process. Up until now, choosing a college has been an abstract exercise. Now that the choices have narrowed, affordability comes into play.

There is no question about the importance of price and financial aid. While we may hope that the final decision will be made based upon academic offerings, the quality of faculty and the opportunities for co-curricular activities, net price certainly influences the decision and sometimes is the determining factor.

The role of financial aid in enrollment is critically important for all types of colleges and universities. So what can enrollment leaders do to ensure that their financial aid operations support recruitment and retention this cycle?

Aggressively Encourage Students to Apply for Financial Aid

Students and families must be actively encouraged to apply for financial aid. This is true for both new and returning students. Consider periodic postcard mailings to students and families. Supplement paper reminders with electronic messages. Place telephone calls to students who do not respond to paper or electronic reminders.

Begin Packaging in January

Colleges and universities are well served by addressing cost concerns as early as possible. The sooner students can be notified of their financial aid eligibility, the better. Early packaging means families have time for financial planning such as arranging payment plans, researching other borrowing opportunities and even securing part-time employment.

Ensure a 48-Hour Turnaround

Once students apply for financial aid, ensure that packages are sent immediately. Institutions often allow weeks to lapse between the time a financial aid application is received and the time an actual award letter is sent. Understand that if your school has received the aid application, so have your competitors. Get the students packaged within 48 hours of receipt of the application.

Monitor Folder Completion Rates

Packaging in a timely manner is obviously important, but additional paperwork is often required to complete the financial aid process. Financial aid administrators should monitor the receipt of other required paperwork to ensure that the aid offer is ready for disbursement by the time school starts. Students who do not turn in required paperwork may be signaling dissatisfaction with the package or may be considering transferring to another school or enrolling elsewhere. Active telephone follow-up with such students might create chances to listen to appeals or even to address other enrollment concerns.

Communicate with Admission Staff and Other Campus Administrators

Take steps to ensure open communication lines with representatives in the Admission Office and other campus constituent groups. Admission counselors will likely be speaking to admission applicants and can provide feedback on how well the financial aid award letters are received by prospective students. Other campus groups, including faculty, housing staff and coaches should contact aid administrators if they are aware of financial problems being experienced by currently enrolled students.

The role of financial aid in recruitment and retention has never been more important for both private and public colleges and universities. Make sure that your institution is ready to address concerns this cycle.

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