Financial Aid Offices Stricken with Compliances Seek Their Own Federal Aid

April 29, 2015

Government regulations currently weaken financial aid staff’s ability to assist students, as asserted by a report aptly titled "2015 Administrative Burden Survey" by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA). This survey consisted of the organization’s members, all of which work as financial aid staff and administrators in colleges and universities across the nation.

The survey revealed a number of new statistics, from the expected to the startling. Three out of four of the surveyed claimed that the aid amount awarded went up, while six out of ten claimed that the amount of applicants went up. Despite the increases, 75% of those surveyed stated that the size of administration did not grow, or even shrank over the years. 47% stated that they simply lacked resources, namely a lack of counseling staff. Those who stated this provided reasons such as insufficient staff, limited budget, excess responsibilities beyond the department, outdated financial aid software, and lack of training.

The survey allowed financial aid workers to identify and explain any issue that they face in the workplace. When inquired about lack of resources, workers first cited “greater compliance workload” followed by the limited operating budget. Additional Title IV requirements and increasing applicants also came out as issues. Areas where limited staffing suffered the most included in-person counseling, phone calls, loan counseling, outreach, and focused demographic counseling. Although the survey only took into consideration the inputs of those who work in financial aid, the students suffer the most from reduced access to financial aid because they end up getting less aid, or none at all.

Justin Draeger, president and CEO of NASFAA, has cited a list of policies that Congress and the Department of Education can look into to quell the problems addressed by the survey.
* Determine a student’s aid eligibility by looking at the family’s income from the last two years instead of last one year, which would give applicants a longer period to complete their applications
* Give administrators the authority to limit loan amounts to specific categories of students to curb “unmanageable debt”
* Remove application questions not directly related to financial aid, such as those related to Selective Service registration or minor convictions
* Set a federal early commitment program to prevent last-minute submissions
* Make the application questions less overwhelming. Some families fail to provide accurate information due to the intimidation of some questions. Better wording of some questions would reduce the application’s burden and make disclosures more meaningful to students
* Simplify Title IV fund returns when a student withdraws
* Update the process of estimating federal regulations burdens, and include estimates in the rulemaking process
* Enforce a ceiling for burden that the Department of Education can impose