May 24, 2022
Many financial-aid offices are understaffed and struggling to fill open positions, according to new survey results from the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. The findings, released on Tuesday, echo a major concern within a profession that helps keep higher education’s wheels turning: Leaner staffs with a long list of responsibilities are finding it more difficult to serve students while complying with federal and state regulations.
For some financial-aid offices, the association wrote in a summary of its findings, “what was once a challenge — albeit a manageable one — has become a crisis.”
Many colleges found it difficult to recruit and retain qualified financial-aid staff members before Covid-19 hit. But the pandemic has exacerbated that difficulty, according to the group, known as NASFAA. The organization, which first surveyed institutions in March 2022, found that half of the 518 respondents had operated at 75 percent of their staffing capacity during the past two aid cycles. In a follow-up survey of those that didn’t respond the first time, 56 percent of 507 financial-aid offices said that they were understaffed — and lacked the time to gather the information needed to complete the survey.
Turnover has been a headache in many fields during the Great Resignation. The three main reasons financial-aid officers recently left their positions, the survey found, are: a higher salary or better benefits in another position (69 percent), “no longer having the desire to work in financial aid” (35 percent), and moving to a different division at the same college (29 percent).
Many colleges reported challenges in filling those vacancies during the 2019-20 and 2020-21 aid cycles. Among financial-aid offices that lost at least one full-time staffer, nearly all respondents (84 percent) said it had been “very difficult” or “difficult” to fill vacant positions with qualified successors. Most (86 percent) said they had not received applications from enough qualified candidates, and 67 percent said the salaries they offered were not competitive. Hiring delays, hiring freezes, and institutional budget cuts were factors, too.