To state the obvious – processing FAFSA verifications is not easy.
For financial aid admins, it can feel like a game of pin the tail on the verification, as you’re being spun in circles trying to provide high quality service to students and maintain compliance – all in a timely manner. We understand. financial aid directors and officers are in a constant struggle to find the balance between speed, compliance and accuracy.
The question becomes one of how you improve verification process efficiency, so your team can focus on the ultimate objective: helping students succeed in college. Here are 5 proven methods to reduce your office’s verification processing time and cost.
1. Create a Workflow
Process is king. Say it with me: Process is king. Financial aid offices must have standard operating procedures (SOP) in place. For example, there should be a process to determine which students need to be verified and a queuing system to monitor students’ progress and what documents have been submitted. Many student information systems can even be set up to automatically flag students for verification, yet often schools do not activate this tool.
Make sure every employee understands how to queue a student and how to move them through the progression. This will guarantee students are being helped in the proper order and will eliminate unnecessary holdups.
2. QA Your Staff
Know your department’s weak spots, and correct them. Quality assurance (QA) systems help eliminate risk of error. Implement a system of monitoring records (even with random samples) and providing feedback. This improves employee diligence and fosters an environment of continuous learning.
Humans make mistakes. The QA process ensures those mistakes are not repeated by the same person or across the department. Even if your department feels understaffed, QA is a worthy investment, as it will ensure higher quality service to students and save countless hours down the road during audit prep.
3. Encourage Collaboration
Teamwork facilitates trust and promotes responsibility. Maintaining compliance is no small task, and it’s even more challenging when the rules change every award year. Yes, you may conduct thorough training, provide resources and push staffers to be diligent, but not much beats the power of two minds tackling an issue. Suggest employees take tough questions to each other and work together on solutions. A collaborative environment leads to
- Faster problem solving
- Better solutions
- An end to repetitive mistakes
- A more cohesive team
4. Give Students Information
Empower your students. The school website is likely the first place students will go for information when they find out they’ve been selected for verification. Many financial aid websites have limited search function, do not employ an FAQ section and do not make resource information readily available to students. These are crucial mistakes, because it means students will either be misinformed after they turn to Google for help or students will seek hand fed assistance from your financial aid admin. If you give students sparse information, be prepared to field their calls, using up your staff’s valuable time. With enough of the right information, it’s possible for students to undertake the entire verification process without calling your school, saving your team countless hours.
Supply students with resources, such as
- Step-by-step guides
- FAQ pages
- Video tutorials
- Best practices/advice
- Links to official sources
Once you have created helpful resource content, the next step is to make it readily available. Put an eye-catching link from your school’s financial aid homepage with clear copy such as “Easy Steps to Complete Verification” or “All You Need to Know About Verification.”
Access is the key here. It doesn’t matter how great your resources are if students can’t locate them quickly and easily. For example, University of Phoenix produced a helpful piece addressing a topic all students would be interested in – how to speed up the verification process – but they put it in the financial services blog, where it would have a short life and quickly be buried by other posts.
5. Use Automated Verification Software
Automation saves time and money. StudentVerification is a self-service solution that automates the financial aid process. It can stand alone or be integrated with any major student information system or school imaging system. It automates every step of the student verification process, including
- Student notification
- Document collection
- Data validation and
- School communication.
Contact CampusLogic to find out how a California community college reduced their verification processing time from nearly six weeks to 48 hours.
What other tactics or techniques has your school found to effectively reduce verification processing time or streamline verification processes? Please share your experiences in the comments below to support your fellow financial aid staffers.