A smooth, effective financial aid office is essential for every college and university–the FA folks generate the funds that make college possible for many students and keep the school in business, after all. It’s crucial, then, for directors to keep financial aid counselors happy and working hard. These are three tactics we suggest you take to boost morale in your department:
1. Do the Heavy Lifting of Student Communication
Nobody likes doing the same thing over and over at work, but for too many financial aid professionals that’s the reality of the job. Many counselors spend hour after hour explaining and re-explaining the FAFSA, the school’s policy on loans and scholarships, the details of calculating family income and more. Even worse, counselors’ workloads are growing faster than departments can fund resources, according to this NASFAA survey.
You can give your counselors and advisers a much-deserved break by helping them keep your students informed on financial aid policies. A good tactic is to send out reminder emails, letters and social media updates each semester keeping students and parents informed about financial news, issues and deadlines. Make sure that families understand their financial obligations well in advance to free up your counselors’ time. Another option is to set up a comprehensive FAQ page like this one and make sure students know it’s there. Instead of explaining the basics over and over, your counselors have the opportunity to focus on special cases and challenging situations.
2. Cut Down on Paperwork
Keeping track of the paperwork is essential for any financial aid office, but nobody wants to spend all day filing and tracking down missing FAFSAs. Relying on the old paper system is a recipe for unhappy financial aid officers and unhappy students–handling physical files takes longer and makes mistakes more likely.
You’ll keep your counselors and students happy by switching over to a cloud-based system. Technologies like StudentVerification streamline paperwork by offering students a self-service portal for all the required verification and notification steps. Not only does the system save your financial aid officers’ time, it also cuts down on mistakes and ensures compliance with federal regulations.
3. Let Them Give the Good News
Financial aid officers spend a lot of time delivering bad news. They’re on the front lines, telling students and parents that they didn’t qualify for grants, that they’ll need an extra loan to cover tuition this year or that they’re on academic probation. Improve morale by letting your counselors be the bearers of good news from time to time.
Is one of your applicants getting a merit scholarship? Let the financial aid office give them a call. Besides giving your counselors a bump in morale, you’ll also be adding a personal touch that may improve your matriculation rates. Has a student turned around his grades and worked his way off academic probation? Let your financial aid officers congratulate them personally. Small touches can make a big difference.
4. Appreciation Goes a Long Way
You may set reminders for yourself to thank the team at the end of the busy season for the longer hours they pull. If so, good for you! But don’t forget to do it in the middle of heavy season sprints and during the slower season too. In fact, build a habit of finding one financial aid counselor each day and complimenting him on something he specifically did. Giving specific, personalized compliments has the effect of making an employee feel valued for her contributions. It also lets employees know that you’re involved and observing the team, so they are more accountable for their work. Lastly, it sets an example for the team, who will likely also engage in more positive feedback with coworkers.
Remember that your counselors are often the first faces of the school for students and parents. Your want those faces to be smiling and calm, in spite of a heavy workload, complicated compliance and challenging interactions with students. Your support ensures their best support of students.