The Tech Savvy Financial Aid Team – A Treasure at the End of the Rainbow


Author
Jason L. Meriwether

Published
January 7, 2014


One of the most important, but often unsung heroes within a vibrant Enrollment Management (EM) technology culture is Financial Aid (FA).  There is never a shortage of opportunities to collaborate with FA when making key EM decisions.  FA can have impact on identifying trends, developing new projects, or examining indicators that influence policy or strategic planning.

Strengthening Services

In the early part of shaping my EM philosophy, it became apparent that in the face of some unique enrollment challenges, success was quite unlikely if FA didn’t take a more substantive role.  The solution, however, wasn’t simply having the team at the proverbial table, nor was it only looking for a certain quantity of increased aid awards.  The real substance was in understanding how to merge services in both admission and retention with financial aid as we combined databases and streamlined our applications and software to create more simplicity for students.  Although there is great value in FA counselors who are knowledgeable of regulations, friendly, and understand policies, the bigger prize is having an FA team with those skills that also actively utilizes technology and data systems.  Seeing how my FA colleagues focused on technology as an asset to improve how they served students strengthened the quality of our student experience.  Even more personally, it demonstrated for me that FA would always be a key player in my approach to EM. 

Tech Savvy Thinking

Above, I noted a few of the IU Southeast FA team qualities.  Most notably, their impact is tied strongly to their tech-savvy approach to collaboration.  My campus FA team presents all information in a way that is clear, concise and easily understood by people who do not possess their level of expertise or have an FA background.  For all of the value associated with FA teams who are experts in their area, the strength of my FA team’s knowledge is how they make it real & simple for all of us non-FA team members.  Tech savvy thinking isn’t limited to understanding databases, software, or regulations.  In its purest form, tech savvy thinking is a combination of knowledge application, knowledge sharing, and knowledge advocacy.  Making EM decisions is much easier when your FA team empowers everyone by avoiding lofty policy statements or simply quoting regulations, but instead takes the extra time to make a very complex world understandable for their colleagues.  I’m quite lucky to have an FA team who believes that technology applied translates into technology understood. 

Intentional Inclusion

During the first few weeks in my current position, I realigned our campus EM structure.  We went from one massive committee that tried to capture all of the EM initiatives to smaller & leaner groups.  Each focused on unique elements of the student experience from an EM perspective.  One of the major elements of this realignment was to include an FA team member on all of the four smaller EM teams.  Although FA had been active in the prior iteration of our EM structure, the expressed value and measurable outcomes of having FA now be represented in every facet of our EM system has been easy to define.   Improved & more succinct communication with students, more clarity of how students are impacted by their personal financial aid picture, and automated & real-time reporting about our target students in a given initiative are all benefits of having a tech savvy FA team.

Conclusion

In my position, I am quite fortunate to have an FA team that drives all of their work in ways that are thoughtful, data-driven, and technology focused.  As discussed above, our EM structure is inclusive of our FA team on the front end of much of our work, and as such, the outcomes are always stronger than the alternatives not involving them would produce.  There is quite a wonderful treasure for me in observing how our staff benefits from an FA team that doesn’t just know technology, but shares its benefits with our campus, and are savvy enough to teach us along the way. 

Jason L. Meriwether is the Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Management & Student Affairs at Indiana University Southeast. Jason believes that effective Enrollment Management & Student Affairs practices are best when theory and technology are at the nexus of student services. Jason says that as much as he values technology, his best success comes from working with an awesome team of collaborators at IU Southeast.   You can follow or reach Jason on twitter @IUSoutheastVC


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