Colleges’ student affairs and financial aid offices both exist with the intention of giving learners the resources and experiences they need to be successful in their academic lives and professional futures. But in the shuffle of daily responsibilities, some of the systems put in place to streamline internal processes between the many moving parts of a higher ed institution can fall to the wayside. Even worse- when financial aid and student affairs fall out of sync, it can often be the learners who pay the price— having to focus their energy into navigating complex systems, and advocating intensely for themselves and their peers, rather than focusing on their academic, extracurricular experiences, or personal lives.
However, with thoughtful planning and an ongoing commitment to open communication, it’s possible to bring more structure to this inherently complex system—in ways that can help more students get the support they need.
Increased connection between student affairs and financial aid can drive positive outcomes that positively impact campus life, improve student success, and affect policy change. Based on our own experience working with leaders from both parts of the institution, here are a few that we’ve found to help foster clearer communication. :
- Know your superpower: Financial aid offices have access to critical data about students’ financial needs and challenges. Student affairs offices, on the other hand, are in a unique position to understand the composition of student bodies and build connections on campus. How can the two use those respective abilities in ways that reduce friction rather than creating it?
Often responsible for organizing campus events and community building activities, student affairs can work with members of the financial aid team to design programming that educates students on the resources available to them in an approachable manner. Using content and insights provided by the financial aid office, student affairs leaders can take point on the way those insights are communicated and disseminated throughout the student body. That results in a system that makes use of each office’s unique strengths.
- Break down barriers: Higher education is famous for “silos” that keep apart critical parts of the institution that should be speaking to each other — not just financial aid and student affairs, but also career services, academic affairs, communications, and student success. As simple as it sounds, the best way to start removing these silos is just to talk. Try starting with a biweekly meeting between financial aid and student affairs leaders to talk through critical challenges facing students, or institution-wide priorities like emergency aid distribution. Communicating more frequently is a necessary first step toward fostering greater understanding – and partnership – between elements of the institution that should work together more than they do.
- Organize for the Learner’s success: While student success is ultimately the mission of every part of the institution, it often has different definitions for different offices. For student affairs teams, success may look like increased persistence rates, as well as a sense of engagement and support; for the financial aid office, success may be more tied to hard numbers that ensure that both the institution and its student body can thrive. If each office articulates its definition for student success, it’s easier to understand how those definitions align — and how pursuing one form of success can often act as a force multiplier for the other forms. Sharing what “student success” means to your office can facilitate more open, transparent communication, and help various departments understand that even if their approaches may differ, their ultimate goals are nearly always aligned.
Are you an administrator? Get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about how you can bring equitable emergency aid to your institution today.
Are you a student? Contact email@example.com or click the blue bubble in the bottom-right corner of edquity.co for assistance.