Guide to Improving Student Perceptions of the FAO
Here are a few suggestions for improving student perception of university financial aid offices:
- Become a guest speaker at a student government assembly meeting. If they know who you are, they're more likely to talk to you before going up the university hierarchy. This meeting could also be a good opportunity to educate the student leaders about financial aid and answer any questions they might have.
- Talk to the editor of the student newspaper. Do an interview. Offer to have a staff member assist with writing a column about financial aid (or even write it). When interviewing, be careful about the difference between "on the record" and "off the record".
- Advertising in the newspaper is also an effective means of communicating important information to students. (If your student newspaper doesn't have a discount advertising rate for university offices, try to convince them to establish one. Most student newspapers offer university offices a discount of around 35% off of their usual advertising rates.)
- Create a financial aid advisory board including students, faculty and administrators. Avoid having too many people on the advisory committee, but try to get a representative sample of the campus community. For example, be sure that the students include both undergraduate students and graduate students. It is also helpful to have students who are international students, minority students, male/female students and married students, to ensure that you get a variety of perspectives. Likewise, make sure that different disciplines such as the humanities and the sciences are included.
- The purpose of the advisory board is to provide you with advice, not to set policy. So the committee members should be selected according to criteria that ensure that a diverse variety of perspectives are included on the board, not to allow every campus faction to have their representative included. Nevertheless, you may find it helpful to ask the student government and faculty senate to supply you with a suggested listed of members.
- Seek their advice on how to notify students of regulatory changes, involve them on academic progress appeal decisions, let them know that the job you do has many facets -- it's not just giving away money and hassling students. An advisory board can be a tremendous resource to your office.
- Compile a list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) asked by students and generate polished answers for those questions. Produce a brochure containing these FAQs that can be distributed to the students. When answering the phone and responding to a FAQ, use the polished answer to ensure a quality response to the student's question.
- Anybody who answers the phone should be trained in proper telephone etiquette.
- Every month, send a survey to the students who used your office recently and ask them to rate different aspects of the office and to report any problems which weren't resolved to their satisfaction. Use these comments to improve the operation of your office from a student perspective. Also send out an annual student satisfaction survey.
- Produce a video in addition to printed brochures. Many students do not have the patience to read a long document. A video can be played on a continuous loop in the waiting area of your office, giving the students something to do while waiting for an appointment. In documents, use graphs and tables where they are clearer than prose. Test the documents on students and get their feedback.
- Schedule meetings with dormitory resident assistants and housemasters to give them a briefing on financial aid, who to contact, etc. Students are more likely to turn to them than the financial aid office when they encounter a problem. By meeting with the RAs, you encourage them to funnel students to you and improve the quality of the information they provide.
- Make sure that there are cross-references to the Financial Aid Office in every other relevant university document. For example, make sure that the university telephone books and student handbooks have entries for "Financial Aid Office".
- If your office has an image problem, start at the top and work your way down. With the approval of your immediate supervisor, let the institution's President know about the problem and ideas you have to solve the mis-perceptions/image problem.
- Meet with VPs, division heads, directors and so on. Explain the problem and inform them of the facts.
- Attend periodic faculty meetings, requesting to make information available and updating them on recent changes. Faculty love statistics. Let them know about percentage of students on aid, number of students that visit your office each month, number of phone calls per month and so on.
- Create a bulletin board of scholarship opportunities.
- Use electronic mailing lists, campus newsgroups and other electronic media as an additional means of communicating with students.
- Produce a monthly financial aid newsletter and send it to all students to keep them informed.
- If there have been major changes in your financial aid office (e.g., major changes in staff or procedures), send a letter or bulletin to all the students. Try to keep them informed of any changes that will affect them.
- Assign one member of your staff as an ombudsman with responsibility for addressing student problems that "fall through the cracks".
- Constantly refer students to 1-800-4-FED-AID. Students would rather call a toll free number at their convenience than stand in line to wait for an answer.