Keeping Track of the Latest Opportunities
Enrollment staff and financial aid officers are responsible for ensuring that students have access to the financial aid they need to attend college. To do this, they have to track federal and state financial aid funding opportunities. And with an ever-changing landscape of financial aid, keeping track of available funding in higher education can be a challenge.
But that might be putting it lightly, especially considering many university offices are understaffed.
Fortunately, there are a few steps enrollment staff and financial aid officers can take to stay up to date on aid opportunities for students.
Look at the Big Picture
The first step to keeping track of the latest changes in aid is to follow a big-picture approach. Rather than trying to keep track of granular changes and details, stay updated on the latest changes in federal and state financial aid funding in higher education.
Recently, the federal Pell Grant program increased the maximum grant amount to $7,395 for the 2023-24 academic year. This is the highest increase since 2011 and will help more students attend college than ever before.
Additionally, states have their own financial aid programs, such as need-based grants, scholarships, and student loan programs that are available for students pursuing higher education. Along with logging any major federal changes, enrollment and financial aid staff should look into state-wide changes that will affect their students’ financial aid outlook.
Once you’ve taken care of federal and state updates, then make any adjustments to institutional changes. By working from a larger picture and then getting more granular, college enrollment staff can avoid missing any important changes.
Create a System for Tracking Changes
And speaking of changes, the second step is to create a system for tracking federal and state financial aid. Financial aid officers can use a checklist, such as the FAFSA Simplification Implementation Checklist provided by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFA), to help them stay organized.
This checklist includes important information such as when to submit the FAFSA, when to process financial aid applications, and when to notify students about their eligibility. From there, staff can add other state and institutional considerations that students need to know.
Many financial aid officers rely on software programs to help them track the aid process. This also provides staff with reminders about upcoming deadlines. There’s also a lot of reliance on spreadsheets and pen and paper. The best system is like the best diet – it’s the one that works for you personally.
Hire Qualified Staff & Empower Them
The third step to keep track of federal and state funding is to make sure the financial aid office has enough staff to manage the workload. As Inside Higher Ed reports, financial aid offices are often understaffed due to budget cuts and other factors. This can lead to delays in processing financial aid applications, which can be detrimental to students.
Financial aid officers should take steps to ensure they have enough staff to manage the workload and keep track of aid. From a hiring perspective, this means selecting the correct applicants any time there’s a position available. Today, leading financial aid offices have employees with backgrounds in finance, mathematics, and administration.
With that said, hiring qualified staff is probably the hardest challenge—and simply not always possible. This points back to the importance of using helpful software to alleviate the workload. Look for options that reliably automate tasks and reminders. When there are fewer people on-hand, making operations less manual matters even more.
Communicate with Students
Lastly, financial aid officers should regularly communicate with students about their financial status. After all, there’s no use in tracking changes in federal and state funding if those shifts aren’t communicated to the students who will be affected.
It’s also important to ensure that students are aware of the available financial aid options and can make informed decisions about their higher education. Financial aid officers can use email, social media, and other methods like texting to stay in touch with students and keep them informed about their financial aid.
By following these steps, enrollment staff and financial aid officers can better keep track of federal and state aid funding for students. Staying up to date on available funding opportunities and creating a system for tracking financial aid ensures that students have the aid they need to thrive in college. Additionally, having enough staff and regularly communicating with students will help financial aid officers manage the workload and keep students on the right track.