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Overworked and Understaffed: Overcoming the Staffing Crisis in Financial Aid

, , , | January 31, 2024 | By

Financial aid office staff are the unsung heroes on campus. They’re responsible for ensuring their institution complies with ever-changing regulations, awarding and rewarding aid across all enrollment models, maximizing institutional scholarship dollars, and providing guidance and support for families as they figure out the best ways to fund their child’s college education. 

But in recent years, financial aid offices have faced a number of challenges. From outdated technology ill-equipped to handle the complexities of new and emerging enrollment models to unprecedented levels of employee turnover, financial aid workloads are growing while staff sizes are shrinking. Couple that with significant regulatory changes like FAFSA Simplification, and the challenges become even more acute. 

The Great Resignation Hits Financial Aid Hard
The number of FTEs in the financial aid offices are shrinking. According to the 2022-23 NASFAA Benchmarking Survey, the average number of FTEs in the financial aid office for the 2021-22 award year was 2.3 FTE, down from 2.5 FTE in the 2016 NASFAA Benchmarking Report. And it’s not because institutions are cutting staff. 

..."'Turnover in the financial aid office is “one of our top issues as an industry,' Justin Draeger, president and CEO of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, told Inside Higher Ed, adding it’s a concern he hears about from college officials constantly.

Financial aid staff turnover continues to rise. In the 2021-22 award year, institutions saw, on average, 2.32 FTE leave the field permanently for promotion and 2.65 FTE, on average, resign. These numbers are up from the 1 FTE reported in NASFAA’s 2022 staffing challenges update report

Filling these empty seats is becoming increasingly difficult, and many job openings remain unfilled. At the time of this post, The Chronicle of Higher Education had over 450 financial aid office openings posted, while HigherEdJobs returned over 700 open requisitions. Many institutions are struggling to fill open roles because there are fewer qualified candidates applying, while others acknowledge that their salaries are not competitive. Still others recognize that their location is less than ideal, which, in turn, deters candidates from relocating. As a result, at the time the 2022-23 NASFAA Benchmarking Survey closed, respondents indicated that more than 40% of positions were vacant for more than six months. 

More Work, Fewer Staff
Adding insult to injury, financial aid staff are busier than ever before. More students are receiving aid, with the total number of Institutional Student Information Records (ISIRs) increasing by 40%. And as the cost of higher education continues to rise, we can only expect those numbers to increase. 

Pressure to increase enrollments isn’t helping financial aid staff, either. As institutions compete for top talent, financial aid and institutional scholarships play an increasingly important role. But many times, recruiters don’t have access to financial aid and scholarship information, prompting them to request information from their colleagues in financial aid and adding one more thing to their to-do list.

Further, as student interest in flexible enrollment models continues to grow, so, too, does the workload associated with it. Many traditional financial aid management systems can’t handle non-standard terms, subscription periods, and non-term enrollment models, leaving financial aid staff to resort to manual, time-intensive processes to award financial aid to students in these programs.

Overcoming Staffing Challenges with Technology
Given the critical role of financial aid, fixing the staffing shortage in their office is a top priority for institutions. But finding more people to fill financial aid staff pipelines isn’t easy. While offering more competitive salaries and flexible work environments could help, there are other options for institutions to explore. 

Automated, cloud-based financial aid systems like Regent Education offer financial aid offices a number of ways to increase efficiency and streamline operations across the entire financial aid lifecycle. By automatically packaging and repackaging financial aid across all institutional enrollment models and tracks, including competency-based education (CBE), financial aid staff can eliminate manual, time-consuming processes, enabling them to complete packaging faster. And when packaging is faster, staff can refocus their time, spending more time delivering the high-quality service and exceptional experience that students expect.

Further, through integration with Salesforce, Regent Education provides key financial aid insights to recruiting and enrollment staff, directly within their CRM. This integration means that recruiting and enrollment staff can access the information they need without having to request additional information from the already overtaxed financial aid office. 

Using Regent Fund, the financial aid office can reduce manual processes and automate the awarding process, providing a holistic view of eligible students and available awards. That way, staff can quickly and efficiently award - and re-award - scholarships to the students the institution most wants to enroll. By automating the process to manage institutional scholarships, financial aid staff can not only eliminate Excel-based tracking systems which are time-consuming to maintain, but they can also ensure that no dollar is left on the table. 

By simplifying the complexities of financial aid and scholarship management, financial aid staff can reduce the time they spend packaging financial aid, issuing institutional scholarships, and processing aid applications. Freeing up their time not only enables them to spend more time providing high-quality service to students, but also enables them to manage day-to-day operations with fewer staff while they look for the right candidates to fill their open positions.

If your financial aid office is looking for ways to overcome financial aid staffing challenges using technology, let’s chat!