The growing shortage of staff in college financial aid departments has caused concern throughout the pandemic. According to Fr. a recent pollDeclining capacity, high staff turnover and recruitment difficulties over the past two years have forced agencies concerned about long-term consequences, including the ability to meet staffing requirements set by the federal mandate.
According to published today a recent survey of 500 institutions The National Association of Student Financial Administrators 80 percent of respondents said they were concerned about the ability of their financial aid offices to remain “administratively capable” in the future to meet the Department of Education’s requirements for Chapter IV programs, as well as Pell grants, additional education grants and federal student grooves. .
Moreover, 56 percent of respondents said they were concerned about their ability to meet the needs of students given their current level of staff.
“We are alarmed that many financial aid offices are critically short of staff, which could create cascading problems for these colleges and universities, both because of their ability to adequately serve students and to maintain compliance with federal and state regulations.” stated in NASFAA. President Justin Draeger.
What causes staff shortages?
The problems of retention and employment in financial aid offices reflect broader trends across the global economy due to pandemic inflation, changes in the labor market and stagnant wages. In the financial aid sector, Problems of recruitment and maintenance preceded the pandemic and became a top priority since the pandemic has increased the demand for financial aid from students suffering from problems.
A NASFAA survey found that in 2019-2020 and 2020-2021, half of the institutions that responded with at least one vacancy employed 75 percent of the staff. This has reduced the ability of financial aid offices to cater to the basic needs of student financial aid, such as providing information on available assistance and loan repayment, and providing assistance to students in need of emergency financial assistance.
“Our people are very thin. We don’t have enough people to answer the phone. We don’t have enough people to serve students through virtual services, and we’re getting more lines on our campuses, ”said JoElen Price, executive director of financial aid at Houston Public College.
According to a NASFAA survey, 69 percent of full-time employees who left the sector did so to get jobs with higher salaries or better benefits. As financial aid offices lose staff due to resignation and retirement, they struggle to attract qualified staff, leading to staff shortages.
Of the 43 percent of respondents, they said it was “very difficult” to fill vacancies with qualified staff.
“In financial aid you can’t replace someone so quickly. It usually takes a financial aid adviser a year or two to really understand everything, ”said Wayne Kruger, executive director of financial aid operations at St. Petersburg College in Florida. “When a counselor retires who has worked there for 30 years, you just don’t pick anyone off the street to replace him.”
Financial aid offices not only find it difficult to take on consultant positions, but they also have difficulty finding candidates for entry-level positions, which are often used as a stepping stone to higher-level consultant positions. According to Price, federal positions for training in financial aid offices are often feeders that place former students in positions in entry-level financial aid offices. However, after the pandemic, participation in work and study declined sharply.
“Prior to the pandemic, we had no problems recruiting students to work who could help us with our services to other students,” Price said. “But we have trouble finding students to work in these positions.”
Both Price and Krueger have shown that they have raised wages in the workplace in their offices to attract students. These attempts, however, have not aroused enough interest to meet current demand.
Draeger said institutions that are heavily dependent on enrollment are most struggling to retain the staff of the financial aid office, especially given declining revenues from declining numbers during the pandemic. These include public colleges, four-year open access colleges, and some low-cost private institutions.
Although higher education staffing issues are not unique to financial aid offices, Draeger noted that it is important to address this shortcoming because it could potentially jeopardize an institution’s ability to stay within the administrative capacity requirements set out in Department of Education. qualify for Title IV programs, which include most federal student-funded student assistance programs.
Draeger defined administrative capacity as the federal government, which said: “The school should invest enough money and resources in its care bureau to have enough staff to adequately administer the programs and to receive enough money to continually prepare for changes to Section rules and regulations. IV ».
If institutions do not meet these administrative capacity requirements, they may face financial sanctions or lose the opportunity to qualify for federal funding under Section IX student assistance programs.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the federal government has relaxed some of the administrative requirements that typically define eligibility for Section IV to allow financial aid offices to have more flexibility in staffing. However, staff shortages have made some financial aid departments nervous because, once the federal government announces the pandemic is over, those demands will be restored.
Only 61 percent of respondents felt they had the resources to stay in line with the administrative capacity requirements set out by the Department of Education.
According to Price, the Department of Education was transparent, saying it would give financial aid offices until the end of the post-emergency payment period to bring them back into line. Price said her office is taking steps to prepare for these changes.
“Right now we’re doing a lot of cross-training to prepare staff in case we have to move more,” Price said. “It won’t be like a light switch if all of a sudden you have the flexibility now and not tomorrow. So, at least, they have made some written concessions in the regulations that allow us to at least extend it and be ready and plan for it. “