Many industries are facing high turnover rates among their staff and fierce competition for new hires. Higher education is no exception, and one division feeling these effects is financial aid. This week, the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators released a new report titled “Financial Aid Offices Face Intensifying Staffing Challenges Amid Pandemic.” Using survey data from their members, the association quantifies the impact of the current staffing levels and hiring challenges as the nation finds its new normal following the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Financial aid offices are important on all college campuses, and certainly so for community colleges as they disproportionately serve students from low-income backgrounds. Receiving over 1000 responses from financial aid offices, representing 39% of NASFAA’s membership. Of those more than 1000 responses, 30% came from the community college sector. The survey focused on award years 2019-20 and 2020-21. During those years, and quite possibly continue through today, institutions faced reduced capacity, significant turnover rates, administrative capability concerns, and difficulty in hiring.
Examining staffing levels, institutions that had a vacancy had an average 2.5 and the number of institutions reporting at least one vacancy for 2020-21 increased 30% from 2019-20. When it comes to filling vacancies with qualified staff, 84% of NASFAA’s respondents indicated it was “very difficult” or “difficult” to do so. When asked why, 86% of financial aid offices cited not receiving enough qualified applicants. The second most common answer was that the salary range was not competitive. Worth noting is that 44% of community colleges said their hiring process was delayed, causing them to lose candidates.
The report includes the full survey results with various breakdowns, including by sector. Some key takeaways for community colleges:
For the 144 community colleges reporting vacancies across the two award years in question, the average was 8.55 for 2019-20 and 8.40 for 2020-21.
· For the 71 institutions reporting a vacancy at the time of survey completion, the average was two vacancies with a maximum of 13.
· Institutions replying regarding their level of concern in their ability to adequately serve students, 38% cited “slightly” and an additional 14% said “very,” representing over half of community college respondents to that question. However, this rate is actually lower than nonprofit and public four-year colleges, registering a combined 55% and 63% across the top two levels of concern.
· When asked if they had the resources and staff necessary to administer the financial aid programs in compliance with the administrative capability requirements outlined in section 668.16(b) of the Standards for Participation in Title IV, HEA Programs, 37% of community colleges responding answered that they did not, which was lower than the 46% of public four-year institutions.
Looking forward, it’s important for colleges, including the community college sector, to keep staffing levels in mind so that they can serve the students who need financial support to attend college. NASFAA concludes by recommending the following future work:
· “Additional work can be done on college campuses and with senior-level administration to address the misclassification of financial aid staff and the salary categories they fall within. This could assist in retention efforts and hiring while addressing one of the largest obstacles to filling vacant financial aid office positions.
· “To better address the needs of the financial aid office and help strengthen the potential pipeline to employment, NASFAA will facilitate discussions between member institutions to brainstorm and develop best practices for job duties and responsibilities for Federal Work-Study students and graduate assistants.
· “NASFAA wants to partner with federal colleagues to identify best practices for administrative capability and work in partnership with federal agencies to remind schools of this Title IV requirement.
· “NASFAA will continue to work with member institutions to develop succession plans that focus on both recruiting and retaining qualified staff in the financial aid community.”