Ten Financial Aid Practices to Avoid

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John W. Dysart
The Dysart Group

During these challenging times for enrollment managers, the focus tends to be on admissions. Enrollment managers are working to grow the inquiry base, better focus search strategies, increase folder completion rates and maximize yield. While juggling all of the recruitment issues related to admission, we can lose sight of the importance of the financial aid operation.I have had the pleasure of visiting more than 200 colleges and universities throughout the United States and have taken detailed looks at the various approaches to financial aid. When identifying problems with approaches to financial aid, the missteps are fairly common.

  1. Packaging Late in the Cycle
    Financial season starts the first day of October. If your Financial Aid operation is not sending packages to new and returning students during the first week in October, you are hurting your ability to recruit and retain students.

  2. Excessive Verification Requirements
    The federal government is clear on which financial aid applicants must verify the information reported on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. If your college or university is selecting a large number of additional applicants for the verification process, you are creating an unnecessary barrier to enrollment, increasing the difficulty for families in an already complex undertaking and creating more work for your financial aid staff members.

  3. Excessive Forms
    The existence of institutional aid applications, pre-printed appeal forms and frankly, any other institutionally created forms is a sign that your Financial Aid Office is complicating the process of applying for financial aid.

  4. Complicated Appeals Processes
    Financial aid appeals are generally not complicated. There are appeals that are always going to be denied. Parents of dependent children who just refuse to pay are not eligible for appeal consideration. In such cases, it is a waste of time for families and the staff in the Financial Aid Office to even begin an appeals process when it is known in advance that the basis of the appeal is going to be denied.

  5. Unrealistic Packaging Policies
    Budgets are tight, financial need is growing and colleges and universities are struggling to generate sufficient net revenue to support operations. In response, many institutions are freezing or cutting resources for institutionally-funded financial aid. If your college or university enrolls significant numbers of students with high financialneed, cutting the financial aid budget may be a disastrous move. While it is possible to make changes to packaging policies with the goal of increasing net revenue, make sure such changes do not make it impossible for needy students to enroll.

  6. No Weekly Reports
    It is imperative that every Financial Aid Office produce a weekly report that monitors financial aid expenditures. A meaningful weekly report must track success in securing financial aid applications from both new and returning studentsand should also track the percentage of admission applicants and currently enrolled students who have been packaged.

  7. Insufficient Follow-Up
    It is imperative that financial aid offices be charged with the task of effectively encouraging new and returning students to apply for financial aid. Quickly packaging financial aid applicants is not enough. Financial aid personnel should be taking active steps to remind students to apply for financial aid as early as possible.

  8. Ineffective Reporting Structure
    Financial aid is complicated, and the rules and regulations are complex and subject to constant change. Whether it is provosts, vice presidents for enrollment or chief financial officers, a reporting structure headed by an individual without a clearunderstanding of financial aid process, policy and philosophy is dangerous.

  9. Unpredictable Expenditure Levels
    It is vital that you have a packaging strategywhere expenditures are reasonably predictable. If your institutional aid expenditures are virtually unknown until classes begin, it is a sure sign of a problem.

  10. Under-Valuing Financial Aid Professionals
    Financial aid professionals are often the over-looked professionals. They bring a considerable set of skills that must be recognized and appreciated. Understanding the value of your financial aid professionals is the first step in attracting and retaining talent.

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