Survey: Financial aid offices overwhelmed by paperwork, lack of staff

'It is students who suffer the most'

Limited resources and extensive regulatory paperwork are preventing financial aid staff from properly serving students, according to a new report from the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA), reports Dian Schaffhauser for Campus Technology.

For the 2015 Administrative Burden Survey, the NASFAA queried its members who all hold positions as financial aid administrators in universities and colleges.

Using data from the 2013-2014 award year, nearly 75% of respondents said that the amount of aid awarded increased, and 60% said the number of applicants grew as well. Yet 75% also said their staff size remained flat or decreased in the past five years.

"When financial aid offices are strained, it is students who suffer the most," says Justin Draeger, president and CEO of NASFAA. "Colleges that shortchange the financial aid office are ultimately putting their own students at risk," he added.

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Nearly half of respondents say they suffer from a moderate or severe lack of resources—most commonly in terms of counseling staff, trailed closely by support staff, operating budgets, technical training, and technology. This shortage stems from first a "greater compliance workload," then the limited budget, increasing Title IX requirements, and the growing number of aid applicants, according to the report.

The services suffering most from the resource strain are:

1. Face-to-face counseling for students;
2. Phone contact;
3. Loan counseling;
4. Outreach efforts; and
5. Focusing on targeted populations.

This means that students are "likely experiencing reduced access to financial aid services, largely because of a prolonged increase in administrative burden and ... limited operating resources," the report authors write.

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According to Draeger, the Department of Education and Congress can address the problems through "common-sense policy avenues," including:

  • Extend the application completion period;
  • Allow aid administrators to limit loans and stop students from incurring "unmanageable debt;"
  • Delete non-financial aid questions from the application;
  • Create a federal early commitment program for the federal student aid programs;
  • Trim down consumer information requirements;
  • Streamline the Title IV refund process that takes place when a student withdraws;
  • Increase transparency around the estimation of federal regulation's burdens;
  • Make "burden estimates" a part of the rule development process; and
  • Cap the burden amount the Department of Education may create (Schaffhauser, Campus Technology, 4/23).

The takeaway: Regulatory burdens are driving a resource shortage in student aid offices, according to a new report from the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.


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