How Student Affairs and Financial Aid Offices Can Work Together to Support Students

For most universities, student affairs and financial aid are completely separate functions—yet the two share a common purpose. After all, both exist to help students make the most of their college experience.
Rachel Hastings

For most universities, student affairs and financial aid are completely separate functions—yet the two share a common purpose. After all, both exist to help students make the most of their college experience. 

Yet, the two rarely work together to smooth the path through their universities. Why is that the case, and how can financial aid and student affairs professionals better collaborate to address students’ needs?

Shared Challenges and Priorities

Traditionally, financial aid and student affairs operate at different parts of the student lifecycle. Financial aid offices exist to help make enrollment possible to admitted students and provide ongoing assistance. In contrast, student affairs teams support everything from student-run organizations to mental health efforts. 

A more productive way to visualize the relationship is as two sides of the same coin. Student affairs professionals provide the social and academic support students need to thrive at school. Financial aid offices work with students to overcome financial and logistical issues (many of which relate to broader personal challenges, like family instability, illness, or unexpected circumstances).

Sometimes, that means that neither group sees the full picture of a student’s challenges or the opportunities to provide support. For example, student affairs professionals may notice that a student is struggling but not know that financial issues contribute to their stress. In contrast, a financial aid officer may not understand that the student is dealing with isolation or depression at school. Since financial pressure is the leading reason students drop out of college, these crossed wires can have significant consequences.

Breaking Down Administrative Silos 

These unnecessary silos are a direct result of the fact that the two functions rarely have overlap in leadership, staff, or projects. The result? Staff members miss the opportunity to get to know each other and collaborate.

When the two groups collaborate and share resources, on the other hand, they are both better equipped to help students holistically and provide the wraparound services they need to thrive.

To break down those silos and provide more integrated support, student affairs and financial aid professionals can take several key steps:

  1. Open the lines of communication. An introductory meeting between the student affairs and financial aid teams, followed by more targeted quarterly check-ins, can go a long way toward identifying areas of alignment and keeping shared issues front of mind. Ideally, these meetings should occur across all levels of each function, not just between team leaders.
  2. Identify shared priorities. While the opportunities for collaboration are extensive, it helps to start small. For example, student affairs and financial aid professionals might work together to create resources they can share with students experiencing financial hardship or stress. 
  3. Gather student input. It’s always wise to go directly to students for insight. Conversations with organization leaders or student workers, or even broader student polling, can be invaluable in identifying challenges related to financial aid and college life. For example, students may share critical gaps in knowledge about the process for renewing scholarships or concerns about local housing affordability. With clarity around these issues, student affairs and financial affairs teams can work together on solutions. 
  4. Simplify systems. When students are overwhelmed, navigating complex aid application systems or a maze of student supports may feel impossible. Student affairs teams are uniquely positioned to reach students where they are and can use their access and expertise to help students navigate emergency aid systems. Likewise, financial aid offices can work with student affairs teams to simplify their processes and make them more accessible.
  5. Define success. Student affairs and financial aid professionals should also decide how to track the success of their efforts. For some, this may mean thinking in an entirely new way. Instead of looking at enrollment figures, average aid packages, and club participation, financial aid offices and student affairs teams might work together to reduce the number of students who drop out for financial reasons.

Collaborations between financial aid and student affairs teams aren’t just another administrative box to check. They are a powerful tool for supporting students through their biggest obstacles to success.

Are you working to streamline your school’s emergency aid application process? Reach out to Edquity to learn about our equitable, federally-compliant solutions. 

Are you an administrator? Get in touch with us at inquiries@edquity.co to learn more about how you can bring equitable emergency aid to yours students today.

Are you a student? Contact support@edquity.co or or click the blue bubble in the bottom-right corner of edquity.co for assistance.

Rachel HastingsRachel Hastings
Written by
Rachel Hastings
Freelance writer focusing on higher education and educational equity

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