The three entities critical to student success occasionally cross paths in a university setting: Faculty, the Financial Aid Office, and Admissions. Although each group must rely on the other two to accomplish their work, sometimes a breakdown in communication can result in the toppling of the house of cards that contributes to the goal of student achievement.
Separate and Individual Perspectives
Take faculty, for example. As the lifeblood of the university, faculty members want students who are academically ready to take their classes. They look to the Admissions staff to ensure students meet the prerequisites required to take a class. From the faculty member’s perspective, having this background helps ensure the pass rate for the class is optimal and maximizes the amount of learning that takes place.
Admissions representatives, on the other hand, expect the instructors to trust their judgment and accept the students they send through the doors, regardless of academic status. They don’t want to memorize the backgrounds of all of the students on their caseloads or to take the chance of weeding out students based on academic status, resulting in more work to compete for students. On the other hand, without collaboration between groups, a student falling below half-time enrollment or losing his or her financial aid won’t have all the information needed to make the right decisions regarding his or her academic future.
The Financial Aid Department often becomes buried under requirements for students to meet various state and federal grant and loan programs or risk students losing their funding. There are also dozens of scholarship standards individual students must reach to keep their scholarships.
Ultimately, the result is additional pressure on the Admissions Department to recruit more students, the Financial Aid Office to ensure students can maintain their funding, and faculty to work twice as hard to ensure a transfer of knowledge, regardless of students’ prior background.
Communication is Key
Communication between these three stakeholders can ease the burden for each group while increasing the chances of success for every student. In a July 2012 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Allene Begley Curto wrote, “Conversations need to occur frequently between financial aid offices, registrars, academic deans, and faculty representatives. Our shared goal is for the student to successfully complete the program. Continued communication and collaboration is the key.” Keeping this goal in mind is critical to helping university departments improve their ability to communicate with one other.
In addition to communications, team building and a respect for each party’s contributions can help reach the university’s goals. According to Kathy Kurz and Jim Scannell, writing in a September 2005 article in UniversityBusiness.com, collaboration, shared goal-setting, shared data, and ongoing and deep communication are essential for the university to maximize its resources and to serve students.
If the goal is student success and student achievement, it is imperative that every stakeholder works together to share information and provide accurate information to students while avoiding shuffling them around to different offices. This strategy improves the overall student experience when applying and enrolling at a university. This, in turn, improves the university’s reputation as word spreads among potential incoming freshmen.
Tips for Communication and Collaboration
Here are some practical ways collaboration and communication can be improved between Faculty, Admissions, and Financial aid.
- Host monthly cross-departmental training programs that increase the awareness of what each department does and how they can help students. These training sessions can increase staff members’ awareness of helpful contacts in the other departments and provide accurate information regarding the department responsibilities to distribute to students. They can also help alleviate referring students and their parents to another department without at least a basic idea of the answers to their questions.
- Hold quarterly “Start, Stop, Continue” sessions regarding what to start doing because it helps the students, stop doing since it is not working, and continue doing because it works in assisting students.
- Meet quarterly to share information that might be helpful to share with students. For instance, Financial Aid might have information on a helpful scholarship that few engineering students know about. A professor might know of a student who is unable to continue their coursework due to financial strain, while the Financial Aid Office can make the student aware of the scholarship.
- Focus on resolving problems and keeping an open mind about what will work rather than pointing fingers or placing blame. When the focus remains on students, more creative and progressive solutions are likely to be reached, thus being more effective at serving students.
University student-facing staff should continue to work together to maximize available resources and provide the most accurate information in order to help students succeed. Otherwise, faculty members may miss an opportunity to recommend a student for a merit scholarship; students may not know the GPA standard to maintain their financial aid; or graduating seniors, may not be aware of the classes needed to fulfill graduation requirements. It is helpful to remember we are all working toward one common goal: STUDENT SUCCESS!
James Amps is an international Speaker/Consultant on Accountability issues and communications within education. He is the author of the Business Bestseller “Speaking To Excel” He has spoken to many large and small groups on topics related to higher education, management, leadership, and personal accountability, among others. He can be reached at www.jamesamps.com
Michelle Lamb Moone, SPHR is a human resources executive with more than 15 years of experience in higher education as an administrator and faculty member. She is the former president of Metro DC CUPA-HR, is widely published on topics related to education, and specializes in consulting in the areas of talent management, training, leadership, management, higher education, and organizational development interventions. She can be reached at email@example.com.
By: James Amps and Michelle Lamb Moone SPHR