What Vice Presidents for Enrollment Need to Know About Financial Aid

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Douglas E. Clark
Vice President for Enrollment Management
Ferrum College

In the enrollment management model of organization where admissions and financial aid both report to the same senior enrollment officer, it is not unusual in many small, private, liberal arts colleges for that officer to have more of a background in admissions than financial aid. Indeed, in many instances, the enrollment management model may actually have originated with (or least that may be the perception) ?putting financial aid under admissions.??

In such cases, it is not unusual to find the VPEM may have been a director of admissions and once in the new role continuing to be more engaged in admissions rather than financial aid. The VPEM will likely be less knowledgeable about financial aid, have less of interests, or just be intimidated by the esoteric world of financial aid with its own obscure language, complicated processes, and confusing regulations.?

The VPEM, therefore, relies on the financial aid director, but often feels that the financial aid office is not supportive of the recruitment strategy. While the VPEM is focused on numbers, the financial aid officer has multiple masters to please besides the VPEM including government officials, auditors and staff in the business office. The VPEM may feel at the mercy of the financial aid officer because of a lack of knowledge preventing the right questions from being asked. The FAO may actually have policies and procedures that negatively impact enrollment and the VPEM must know enough to recognize when this is happening.?

For the VPEM who feels financial aid challenged, there are a number of steps to take to prepare for effective oversight of the financial aid office. The first thing to realize is that in the world of financial aid it is not necessarily what you don?t know that will get you ? it is what you don?t know you don?t know. So, any VPEM needs to get to the point of knowing what they don?t know!?

First, get involved in the financial aid professional associations which are among the best in higher education. There are state, regional and national groups. At least go to the state meetings and begin developing a network of financial aid folks that you can call on for advice. Also, attend one of the many workshops these groups offer. For instance, the Southern Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (SASFAA) offers a great summer workshop for new aid administrators.?

Second, do the work! Let your admissions counsellors handle folder reviews while you learn how to package. Start with freshman packaging (since financial aid makes a difference in college choice). By mastering packaging, you will find the pieces of the financial aid puzzle start to come together. It is the best and quickest way to learn how the different aid programs work and, more importantly, how they work together in a package. This will enable you to be more effective in dealing with prospective students and their families. It will give you a great tool in closing with a prospective student and securing that all important deposit.?

Once you have more knowledge about the financial aid process you will be better prepared to make management decisions about financial aid that can impact your enrollment strategy. For instance:?

The packaging policy: How financial aid is awarded and in what order can impact yield and expenditure levels.?

Forms: Are all those forms really necessary? Your financial aid office may be requiring unnecessary paperwork that just makes the enrollment process more difficult.?

Verification: Watch out for this one. Some aid offices require 100% verification or require students to complete the verification process prior to packaging. Neither policy is required by federal regulation and each delays the enrollment process.?

Setting work priorities: Keep an eye on paper flow! Packaging students and encouraging them to complete their folders are the top priorities. You need to monitor this to make sure financial aid efforts are not getting diverted to other concerns. Completing files by the opening of school will enhance cash flow since financial aid can only be drawn down when all paperwork is complete. If you have a 90% plus file completion at the opening of school your business officer will love you! An important ally to be sure.?

The key thing to remember is that financial aid offices are not trying to slow things down, but their training instills in them the inclination to be thorough and document. That is important but many financial aid offices do more than necessary and you need to know enough to keep things moving so that you can successfully enroll your class.

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