The Gap Between Financial Aid and Academics: Improving Communication Through Cooperation

Melissa Maichle .

You don’t have to be in the Financial Aid Office very long to experience a situation where you wished you had a chance to counsel a student before they made an academic decision that created a financial challenge. Students often have challenges that impact their academic lives — health problems, family problems, academic problems and financial problems. The Financial Aid Office is the first stop for the latter, but we’re rarely consulted for the others, and those who are counseling the student do not always realize that what is best for them academically may have serious financial repercussions.

It’s not realistic to expect an academic advisor to know how financial aid will be affected, but it would be great if we could at least communicate about these students as part of the academic counseling process. Some examples of students who found themselves in dire financial straits after making sound academic decisions are:

  • The student who drops a class late in the term and receives a ‘W,’ so does not meet Satisfactory Academic Progress standards,
  • The student who withdraws after classes have begun, not realizing they may lose financial aid,
  • The student who takes a year off, not knowing they will have to repay their student loans and
  • The student who returns from an academic suspension without taking the necessary steps to regain financial aid eligibility.

In each case, there is a very high risk the student will not be able to continue at your institution.

One easy to implement solution that can be incorporated into your academic advising procedures is to ask the student whether they receive financial aid. Students who answer affirmatively or who aren’t sure are directed to visit the Financial Aid Office before finalizing their academic plans. Another method we have seen deployed with success is to include a Financial Aid Administrator (FAA) on the committees where students petition for status changes, academic probation/suspension decisions and leave of absence approvals. The FAA can then provide the information the student needs to have and it can be delivered at the time the decision is made rather than weeks (or months!) later.

At the end of the day, no one benefits when students are lost to these situations, so don’t be afraid to have this conversation with those that can help implement a solution. Framing it as a request for help, rather than a directive, can go a long way too. Information sharing is challenging when departments operate in different silos, but the extra effort will help you better serve your students.

There have been a number of changes to enrollment related regulations as a result of COVID-19. If you’re not sure that your Policy and Procedure manual is 100% up-to-date, let the Higher Education Assistance Group help with a compliance review. Email for more information.