Beyond the Numbers: Embracing the Human Side of Student Financial Services

Amy Jenkins
August 29, 2023

In the world of higher education, the role of Bursar is pivotal. As Bursar (or Head of Student Accounts or Director of Student Financial Services!)  you manage the financial aspects that keep universities running smoothly, ensuring that tuition is paid, bills are settled, and budgets are balanced. But beyond the spreadsheets and ledgers, there's a vital aspect of your work that deserves attention—the human side of student financial services.

Beyond Transactions: Nurturing Relationships

As guardians of financial transactions, it's easy to get caught up in the numbers. However, every transaction represents a student, a family, and their dreams of a brighter future. Recognizing this human aspect can transform the way you approach your role.

You and your team are often busy with the daily work of sending out bills and collecting payments.  Look for ways to automate the tasks you can so that you and your team can spend additional time with the students who need you - those who might be suddenly unable to pay because of a loss of a job or a medical reason. These students need to know you and the team are there and can work alongside them, and financial aid, to provide them with the support to persist and graduate.

Empathy in Action: The Impact of Better Communications

Treating students as individuals rather than account numbers can significantly impact their experience. Imagine a student facing unexpected financial challenges—showing empathy and providing support can make a world of difference.

Emails that call students by their numbers vs their names are just one of the ways we accidentally signal to students their worth.  The more personalized you are with all of your communications, and the more open you are to two way communication, the more connection students will feel. Clear, compassionate communication is at the heart of the human side of financial services. When students understand their options and feel heard, they are more likely to engage positively.

Collaboration at the School: Put Students at the Center

Students get frustrated when they ask a question only to be told it needs to be answered somewhere else.  From their perspective the Financial Aid office gives them money and the Bursar then collects it – and they want both offices to be on the same page.  When they get a bill that doesn’t show their aid they wonder: what is going on and why should I even pay this?

Collaboration between the two offices, and their systems, can go far.  When the student becomes the center, they can feel it.  Make sure that the bills they get show the aid they will eventually receive.  Walk them through the journey with tooltips and guides and make it easy for them to get in touch when they are confused.  Ensure their bills are easy enough to understand that even if they have a question, someone in either the Financial Aid Office or Student Accounts can answer it.

Creating a Holistic Financial Journey

The journey from enrollment to graduation is a transformative one for students. For most students this is their first time interpreting and paying bills.  They are dealing with deadlines that are not just homework, and expenses that go far beyond pizza.  They are looking to schools to help them with this transition - to give them the tools and strategies they need to navigate and to grow into young adults who can make their way in the world.  Student Financial Services can play a critical role in their development.

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