The growing staff shortage in the college’s financial aid office is a cause for concern throughout the epidemic. According to a recent survey, reduced capacity, higher turnover rates and difficulty in hiring over the past two years have worried organizations about the long-term impact, including the ability to meet the requirements of federally mandated workers.
According to a recent survey of 500 institutions published today by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, 80 percent of respondents indicated that they are concerned about the ability of their financial aid office to be “administratively competent” to meet future education department requirements. For the Title IV program, plus grants, supplementary educational opportunities grants, and federal student loans.
What’s more, 56 percent of respondents said they were concerned about their ability to meet student needs based on their current staff level.
“We’re sounding the alarm that many financial aid offices are critically understaffed, which could create cascading problems for those colleges and universities, both in terms of compliance with federal and state regulations as well as their ability to provide adequate services to students,” said NASFAA President Justin Drager.
What is driving staff deficit?
The problems of retention and hiring in the financial aid office reflect a broader trend in the global economy, driven by epidemic-induced inflation, job market changes and stagnant wages. In the financial aid sector, recruitment and retention problems preceded the epidemic, and the growing demand for financial aid from students struggling with the epidemic has become a primary concern.
The NASFAA survey found that at least half of the responsive organizations with at least one vacancy are working in 75 percent of the staff capacity in the 2019-20 and 2020-21 award years. This has reduced the ability of the Financial Aid Office to meet students’ basic financial assistance needs, such as providing available assistance and information on loan repayments as well as assisting students in need of emergency financial assistance.
“It simply came to our notice then. We don’t have enough people to answer the phone. We don’t have enough people to serve students through virtual services, and we get more lines on our campus, “said Joelin Price, executive director of financial aid at Houston Community College.
According to the NASFAA survey, 69 percent of full-time employees who left the sector did so in order to get a job with higher pay or better benefits. As financial aid offices lose employees due to resignations and retirements, they are struggling to attract qualified employees, leading to staff shortages.
Among those surveyed, 43 percent said it was “very difficult” to fill vacancies with qualified staff.
“With financial help, you can’t replace someone so quickly. Wayne Krueger, executive director of financial aid at St. Petersburg College in Florida, says it takes a year or two for a financial aid consultant to really understand everything. “When a counselor retires who has been in office for 30 years, you shouldn’t take anyone to the streets to replace them.”
Not only are financial aid offices struggling to fill counselor positions, they are also finding it difficult to find candidates to fill entry-level positions that are often used as a stepping-stone to higher-level counseling positions. According to Price, Federal Work-Study positions in the Financial Aid Office are often feeders that place alumni at the entry-level Financial Aid Office. However, work-study participation has declined sharply since the epidemic.
“Prior to the epidemic, we had no problem recruiting work-study students who could help us with our services for other students,” Price said. “But we are having trouble finding students to work in these positions.”
Both Price and Kruger have indicated that they have increased wages in their office work-study positions in an effort to attract students. These efforts, however, have not aroused enough interest to meet the current demand.
Drager says organizations that rely heavily on enlistment are struggling the most to retain financial aid office staff, especially due to declining revenue from enrollment throughout the epidemic. These include community colleges, open-access four-year colleges and some low-cost private institutions.
While issues with staff in higher education are not unique to financial aid offices, Drager noted that these deficits are important to address because they could jeopardize an organization’s ability to comply with the administrative competency requirements set by the Department of Education. Qualify for Title IV programs, which include most student support programs funded by the federal government.
Drager defines administrative power as the federal government’s definition that “a school must invest sufficient funds and resources in its support office to have enough staff to run programs adequately and receive adequate funding for ongoing training on change.” Title IV Rules and Regulations . “
Institutions that fail to meet these administrative competency requirements may face financial penalties or lose eligibility to receive federal funding under the Title IX Student Assistance Program.
The federal government has relaxed some administrative requirements that typically determine title IV eligibility since the onset of the epidemic to allow financial aid offices to be more flexible with staff. However, the persistence of staff shortages has made some in the financial aid offices nervous, because once the federal government announces the end of the epidemic, those requirements will be restored.
Only 61 percent of those surveyed think they have the resources to meet the administrative competency requirements described by the Department of Education.
According to Price, the Department of Education has made it clear that it will provide financial assistance to offices to return to consent after the end of the national emergency until the payment period expires. Price says his office is taking steps to prepare for the changes.
“We’re doing a lot of cross-training now to prepare our staff for more movement,” Price said. “It would not be like turning off a light switch where all of a sudden your flexibility is not yours now and tomorrow. So at least they have given some written concessions in the regulations that at least allow us to extend it and get ready and plan for it.”