At the 2017 NASFAA National Conference, Tyler Pruett, from Samuel Merritt University, was part of a panel discussing “Communication Planning and Execution: The Right Message at the Right Time.” The Director of Financial Aid and Campus Service Center, Pruett was funny, eloquent—and exceedingly truthful. Our social media team captured his humor, in a great way, with this tweet:
It hit home because it’s a tension that we all know exists—but don’t really talk about. And we should. The most difficult days I faced as a Director of Financial Aid included meetings with students who had found their home on my campus only to realize it was a home they couldn’t afford to fund. True collaborative partnerships between financial aid and admissions offices make for fewer of these types of difficult days—but it’s not an easy process.
Bridge The Tension Over Troubled Waters
The relationship between FinAid and other departments—admissions and enrollment, for example—isn’t always easy. Schools work diligently to align the different groups, with over 50% of financial aid teams reporting into enrollment management. Yet I often hear Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” playing in my head when people ask how well we all collaborate.
Our Common Goal: Student Success
In the best cases, a campus’ administrative groups work toward a common goal of enrolling students who are a good fit and well educated on all aspects of college—including cost and funding options. In the worst cases, competing goals and objectives can cause “minor civil wars,” where the casualties are students.
Here are a few suggestions for bridging the gap between enrollment and financial aid:
Assume positive intent.
Remember: No one is out to get you or make your life harder than it already is. Assuming positive intent isn’t always easy, but it is integral to strong cross-departmental relationships. Both groups have the same goal in mind: To enroll, educate, retain, and graduate students who are ready to embrace the next challenge in life—a career. Take time to educate yourself on the inner workings of admissions and enrollment management.
Focus on the big picture.
The end goal can easily be lost if short-term, siloed goals and objectives take the spotlight. Keep the bigger picture in mind. Both the admissions and financial aid offices play an important role in the university’s ability to enroll, educate, retain, and graduate students. Remember this is a symbiotic relationship; not parasitic.
Stop pointing fingers.
Working in the trenches can result in a significant amount of finger-pointing when something goes wrong. Finger-pointing doesn’t help anyone; solutions do. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard things like, “They don’t send us students who can afford our tuition,” or, “Why doesn’t financial aid do more?” These questions don’t help anyone—especially students.
Leverage each other’s strengths.
Even on the most difficult of days, remember that you are actually on the same team. Joining forces makes it easier to overcome the obstacles that your students are facing. If students aren’t admitted to the institution, there is no one for financial aid to package—and no graduates to enter new careers. Admissions teams already have built a strong relationship with prospective students; they are familiar with how and when students like to receive information. Work collaboratively to ensure that admissions communications have quality information and resources on college cost, financial aid, and return on educational investment.
There are many areas where FinAid communications
can support and expand enrollment messaging and tone. Make your award letter a tool to drive enrollment while educating students on cost and funding options. Have you considered including video content in the award letter? Rivier University in NH offers a digital award letter—and for the first time, contains a video aerial tour of the campus.
Educate yourself and others.
We often fear things we don’t understand. By better understanding other functional areas on campus, like admissions and enrollment management, things will feel a lot more familiar. You can help other departments understand financial aid, too, by offering to train and educate them. Stay at a high level and do not get lost in the details that can be overwhelming. As hard as it is to imagine, not everybody gets excited by R2T4 and awarding philosophies. I know, strange, right??
Student success takes a village. And that village has to include financial aid, admissions, and enrollment voices. Small steps can pay huge dividends for students. The sooner we take those steps, the better for everyone.