During the 2010-11 school year, federal and state governments, institutions and private entities provided more than $245 billion in grants, loans, work study, tax credits and deductions to our nation’s college students. More students apply for and receive financial aid than ever before. Is your department equipped to handle the volume?
Distributing that money doesn’t have to be a frustrating endeavor for financial aid offices. To meet the demands of higher student numbers, ever-changing compliance requirements and limited budget, you must turn your financial aid office into a more efficient, streamlined operation. Fortunately, today’s technology can help the process flow smoother than in years past. Consider these ideas:
1. Automate FAFSA Verification
FAFSA verification creates headaches for your office and hassles for students, so make the process easier by automating it. Automation eliminates the need to handle paper documents, saves your school money and improves the overall student experience by significantly speeding up internal processing times.
Web-based automated software like StudentVerification informs selected students about the which verification documents are required and instructs them on how to upload the required information to the student self-service portal. The system then compares the student-provided information with the reported ISIR data. Financial aid office staff can log in to view students’ actions, which are all recorded and time stamped. With an intuitive platform often compared to the easy-to-use interface of TurboTax, StudentVerification automates the majority of the verification process, reducing processing times by as much as 95 percent.
2. Over Communicate with Students
While no one agrees on the most effective frequency of messaging, suffice it to say that students need to hear or read something multiple times before they remember it. That’s why it’s important to communicate dates, deadlines and other important information multiple times and through a variety of channels to help students help themselves.
Consider using regularly scheduled social media posts on Facebook or Twitter to keep students informed of their responsibilities. Emails are great too, but students’ inboxes get inundated with “official” messages from the school, sometimes causing important financial aid information to be overlooked. To make information campaigns easy, the U.S. Department of Education Federal Student Aid office has compiled tools to help financial aid office staff, or you can create your own in-house.
3. Send Appointment Reminders
On the surface, it may seem like more work to send email reminders to students who have scheduled appointments at the financial aid office, but it’s a lot less work than having to deal with missed appointments followed by requests to reschedule. You can send reminders manually using your email system, or there are a variety of online apps that automate the process for you.
4. Stay Up to Date with Compliance
The federal government produces and distributes web-based training modules designed to help financial aid officers stay informed about industry updates. Available FSA training includes the FSA Coach, a glossary and video demonstrations with accompanying handouts. Participants can learn about topics like institutional eligibility, SAP and default prevent, and may receive trainings on COD, G5 and NSLDS.
Your Tech Beat
We want to hear from our readers in the financial aid world! How have you used technology to make your job easier or your department more efficient? What is the can’t-live-without technology in your financial aid office?