“Our job is to educate, and any involvement with Financial Aid will just complicate our mission.”
Historically, that has been the mindset of academia in general and the administrative divisions of colleges, universities and seminaries, in particular. This is especially true as education access becomes more complex, including such delivery methods as massive open online classes (MOOC), degree completion programs, non-standard term methods, and other non-traditional delivery methods.
You may be a part of this new complexity, participating in planning sessions to determine how the demands of the non-traditional student can be met. The greater the students’ needs, the more creative your planning committee becomes in developing module classes, weekend classes, blended schedules with independent study, and online as well as brick and mortar classes that offer frequent start dates to accommodate adult student populations. Or perhaps you devise some mix of all of the above.
As your planning committee meets, the curriculum, delivery method, calendar and faculty are developed. The new plan, which everyone is excited about, is scheduled for printing, presentation, and promotion.
But wait. Here are three common ways that all of your efforts and excitement can be immediately stopped:
STOP 1: During the planning process, you mention the plan to the financial aid officer. Eager for a nod of approval, you hear: “We can’t do that. It’s against federal regulations.”
This may or may not be true; the fact is that when an institution departs from the traditional semester, quarter or trimester delivery system the new method of delivery may—or may not—meet with federal guidelines.
I do not disparage the financial aid staff for coming to this conclusion; I only mention this as I reflect on thirty years of professional experience in academic consulting and to help you more effectively communicate with your financial aid advisors.
The first step in that process is to see the situation from their point of view.
Your Financial aid staff may be working only from traditional experiences and may actually believe the new program does not fit with federal guidelines. Or your financial aid officer may consciously or unconsciously feel he is overworked or understaffed and that he could not manage the growth associated with the new delivery systems while also maintaining financial aid services for the traditional students. These are legitimate concerns, but they can put an unnecessary stop to new programs. A few solutions to this scenario are given at the end of this article.
STOP 2: In this case, the financial aid staff and director may be willing to assist in helping develop and expedite the new program in accordance with federal guidelines, but they are informed late in the process and need to research or further study the proposal. The time needed to resolve the complexities involved often causes delays at best and the cancellation of the new program at worse.
STOP 3: Here again, the financial aid staff is willing and able to help, but only learns of the new program just before or during registration. This can lead to potentially damaging situations, which we’ll explore in the next article.
In these three scenarios, a well-designed academic program can be immediately stopped because of lack of communication and teamwork between necessary university divisions who are all working toward the same mission.
Your financial aid director is on the same team as you are and needs to be included in the development of any new programs or delivery systems from the beginning.
If you encounter STOP 1 in which the financial aid officer confidently states your ideas cannot be implemented under current federal regulations, politely ask to see the regulation in the Student Aid Handbook. As well, consult with the U.S. Department of Education or an experienced financial aid consultant. This will give you accurate information to develop your program to meet regulations. In addition, your financial aid division will gain valuable information.
While Federal regulations are complex, if financial aid experts (from your institution, the US Department of Education, or hired consultants) are included early in the development of new programs, their expertise will ensure that your programs are implemented in compliance with federal regulations. The key is to communicate with them early in order to achieve the best results.
The next article will discuss the consequences of implementing a plan without communicating with financial aid officers.
Dr. Harry Weber
President, Weber & Associates, Inc.
A full-service financial aid consulting company with over thirty years’ experience in higher education.
Harry Weber is president of Weber & Associates, Inc. – a full-service financial aid consulting company with over 30 years experience in higher education