Change does happen. We talked last week about what some of the impacts of change may be, along with how to see change as an opportunity. This week we continue with the same topic, but look specifically at one of the common changes that occur in the financial aid world. Hank Williams sang, “You’re gonna change, or I’m gonna leave.” That may be what a financial aid director is saying to his boss! Or, it may be that the boss slightly modified the song to sing to the financial aid director, “you’re gonna change, and you’re gonna leave!” Either way, whether the financial aid director makes an abrupt decision to change jobs, or the boss helps her make the decision, it is not an infrequent occurrence to see a change in who fills the role of financial aid director. What is the impact when there is a switch in the person in this role? What are things that should occur when the person leaves, and as a new one enters the role? How do you enhance your institution’s environment of excellence when this type of change occurs? Let’s explore these topics.
The financial aid director is now gone. Many times this situation leaves the school in a lurch, without adequate time for planning to address how and who will fulfill the responsibilities while you look for a new person. It is not uncommon to find that the financial aid director’s boss does not know all of the details of the director’s daily routine. Therefore, he or she may be uncertain how to accomplish the necessary duties to ensure students receive their financial aid. Depending upon the reason for the loss of the financial aid director and the staff’s experience with the prior incumbent, they may or may not be able to assist in the operational tasks necessary day to day. The Financial Aid Office is likely to be in disarray without its leader. Other staff in the office (or those who worked with the financial aid director) will be either happy, sad, ambivalent, or disheartened…and likely, anxious.
Parting…Sorrowful or Sweet
The quotation from Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” is that “parting is such sweet sorrow.” In the case of a change in personnel in the financial aid director’s role, it will be either more sweet or sorrowful depending upon the circumstances. Regardless, there are key items to consider upon a director leaving. Some of the immediate and practical matters to address include:
- Since a school is responsible for the security and privacy of students’ personally identifiable information (PII), it is important to ensure that all keys, access cards, or electronic access codes to the school’s facilities that were in the Director’s possession are returned and access codes revoked, as applicable. If not, you will need to consider the need to have your locks re-keyed or the codes reset.
- Any school equipment assigned personally to the director (e.g., laptop, mobile phone, tablet computer, etc.) should be recovered immediately to avoid potential for loss (and opportunity for a security breach) or misuse, e.g., attempts at accessing students’ PII or school information to which the former employee is no longer authorized.
- Make certain that all systems access as a school authorized user to various federal and state agency logins are revoked for the former director. For example he likely had access, as a designated representative of the school, to many of the U.S. Department of Ed (ED) systems (e.g., SAIG, NSLDS, COD, G-5, FAA Access to CPS Online, eCB, etc., as applicable). Likewise, access to outside agencies’ and servicers’ systems should be revoked. (For schools utilizing FAME’s servicing, you should contact Customer Service for assistance regarding user access changes for FAME products.)
- As log-ins to ED systems are being revoked, confirm the return of the Two-Factor Authentication (TFA) token from the exiting director and contact the TFA Support Center for repurposing the token and/or about returning the token. The TFA Support Center may be reached by e-mail at TFASupport@ed.gov, or by telephone at 1-800-330-5947, option 2.
- Ensure that ED is notified within 10 days via an update to the school’s electronic Application for Approval to Participate in the Federal Student Aid Programs (E-App). If you have not hired a replacement in that time, you should consider appointing an “Acting” or “Interim” Director of Financial Aid. The position is key, and thus you do need someone in that role to continue to access the various critical ED systems.*
- Likewise, confirm that the former employee’s access to the school’s own automated systems, including equipment and software, telephone access codes, etc., have been revoked.
- Set all e-mails addressed to the former director to be automatically forwarded to a new address as determined appropriate, e.g., acting director of financial aid or the supervisor of the director, etc. Similarly, establish protocol for forwarding and handling of physical mail addressed to the former director.
- Have the access code and/or password to the voice mail of the former director’s telephone reset and a new recording made as determined appropriate for your school and situation until a new director obtains that phone number.
- Make appropriate changes in communication channels. That is, all of the various means of communication used that may include the former director’s name and contact information should be updated, e.g., on your Web site, in directory information in brochures, form letters, etc.
- Unless you already have someone with excellent experience working at the school in financial aid that is a viable candidate for director, you should consider immediately posting an ad for the vacant position in various venues that will likely generate experienced candidates for the role. Some that you may wish to consider (in addition to your local area newspapers) would be the state and regional professional associations of student financial aid administrators, as well as possibly the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) at www.nasfaa.org. The state or regional associations may require a membership to post employment opportunities on their Web site, or they may charge to post an ad. NASFAA does provide links on its Web site to all of the state and regional associations under its “States and Regions” tab. The Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities (APSCU) at www.apscu.org is another potential place to post an ad for individuals experienced in financial aid. (APSCU is the former Career College Association and they do require membership to post an opening.)
- There are various steps in the financial aid process. As the supervisor of the director of financial aid position, it is critical that you have a clear overall view of the things of which you need to be aware related to financial aid processes. It is important to have developed a flow chart of processes, including a chart of responsibilities template, prior to a change in personnel. If that did not occur, it would be good to meet with the other staff in financial aid to ascertain, as much as possible, what are the requirements to maintain efficient and compliant operations while a new director is being sought.*
- Review your school’s Financial Aid Policies and Procedures Manual to ensure all aspects of operations are still being met as it relates to serving the students, processing aid, and keeping the cash flow unrestricted.*
- Verify with your school’s human resources administrator that all necessary steps, procedures and protocols of your school’s policies have been followed for the circumstance of the departure of the financial aid director.
So, it has turned out that indeed there was a change. Whatever the circumstances that led to the transition from the prior individual to the new director of financial aid, hopefully you have performed your due diligence and thus have hired the “right” new person. This being the case, surely you have also brought out your school’s version of the “Welcome Wagon”. Many have perhaps heard of the company by that name that for decades has welcomed people into their community or a new home. But, the concept for the company had its start based upon inspiration from the days of westward expansion in the United States when people traveled west in Conestoga wagons. As they traveled, “welcome wagons” would meet and greet the travelers with fresh supplies and water for their further travels. Similarly, it is important that your newly hired director of financial aid receive a positive, enthusiastic and informative welcome to your school. (You do hope, however, that unlike the wagon train travelers, she will not continue traveling elsewhere, but will homestead at your school!) A point of contact—a “welcomer,” if you will—should be designated to assist this new treasure you have acquired learn of the history, status and prospects for your school and the Financial Aid Office. All relevant information necessary to assist the new individual in acclimating and excelling should be provided. And, of course, all of your school’s human resources policies and protocols for new starts are to be followed as well. But, there are unique aspects to a person starting a new job as director of financial aid at a school. Some of these are critical to being able to do the job, and some are necessary as part of a “welcoming” your school should be known for.
It will be noted that many of the critical points in getting someone started in the role of director of financial aid are somewhat the reverse of what was to happen when the former director left. Let us enumerate them as a checklist for you.
- As good policy and protocol, have one person designated as the official “welcomer” or greeter for the new director. In most cases this will likely be her new supervisor, but at some schools, it may be a requirement to first report to human resources. Ensure you follow your school’s protocol. Either way, when the new director arrives in the Financial Aid Office, an individual in the office and/or the supervisor of the new director should be ready to welcome her and provide an overall projected schedule or agenda for acclimating to the school and the role of director of financial aid. This should include personal introductions to the key individuals with whom the director will interact, e.g., registrar, director of admissions, director of information technology, the individual in charge of institutional reporting, chief academic officer, chief business officer, etc.
- Prepare in advance to dispense to the director on the first day the appropriate keys, identification cards, electronic entry codes or door access codes necessary for school and office access, etc.
- Ensure that the necessary equipment is assigned as soon as possible so that the individual may become productive without delay. This will include desk equipment (desktop computer, telephone, calculator, etc.), as well as any other equipment the school may assign, e.g., laptop computer, mobile phone, tablet computer, etc. Clearly written instructions for accessing the various equipment should be provided, including instructions for recording his own new voice mail message, etc.
- Have the appropriate authorizations established for the director’s access to the school’s automated system and any electronic accounts established. This may include anticipating before the first day of employment to have the new director’s e-mail address established and all institutional log-in information requested and approved so that it is available on the first day she starts. (Granted, there may be electronic or “wet” signatures required on authorizations on the first day, but all precursor set-ups should be done before the start date.)
- If there is time between the offer date and the start date, and another staff member has access to the E-App, prepare the update to the E-App so that it only needs a signature when the director starts to be able to submit it. (This may have been the second E-App update for notifying ED of the change in financial aid directors if you had to assign an “acting” or interim director of financial aid until you hired a new individual. Depending upon the timing of the loss of the old director and the hiring of the new director, it is possible that you make two updates to the E-App within 20 days.)*
- Have the required logins for ED systems and Web sites (e.g., SAIG, NSLDS, COD, G-5, FAA Access to CPS Online, eCB, etc., as applicable) requested on the first day so there is no lag in necessary access. This can be done at www.fsawebenroll.ed.gov.
- Plan an official announcement of the new director to the school community, to include students, staff and faculty, as well as administration.
- Update all media and communication venues with the new director’s information, e.g., the school catalog, the school’s general Web site, as well as the Financial Aid Office’s own Web pages, brochures, form letters, etc.
- Arrange a communication plan to announce the new director to all appropriate stakeholders, e.g., State agencies, accrediting agencies, loan servicers, private loan lenders, professional associations, etc.
Enhancing the Environment of Excellence
When a change takes place, no matter the reason, it is hoped that the instance will be used to make the organization better and that it will enhance the environment of excellence for which the school desires to be known. This can happen. But, it usually takes intentional effort. What are some practical considerations to see this occur when transitioning individuals in a role?
- First, ensure that you hire wisely, not necessarily quickly. While it is tempting to “fill” a position, it is many times more important to take a bit of extra time and hire correctly and wisely. The thought may arise that you want to fill the position rapidly so you only have to submit the update to the E-App once, but that slight inconvenience of submitting a second update may well be worth it if you ensure you have hired the right person for the role. Experience has taught this writer that, indeed, “haste makes waste” if you hire the wrong person.
- Validate that the job description for the position is appropriate and adequate. It should have sufficient detail to give direction for the position and allow for measurement, but enough flexibility to allow for unique situations and the initiative of a true professional that you have hired.
- Enhance the on-boarding experience for the new member of your team. Do not let them flounder about in uncertainty that may be alleviated by good communication. Make the introductory period as meaningful, useful, and productive as possible by providing appropriate information, making introductions to key people and sharing of unique institutional idiosyncracies. These steps assist in helping the new employee gain a feeling of shared “ownership” and being a member of the team.
- It is a given that you expect your new employee to do his work effectively. But, as the supervisor of the new director, take the time and interest to get to know your new employee. While you may be the boss of the director, the old addage applies, “they don’t care how much you know unitl they know how much you care.” This does not imply a need to get all “touchy-feely.” (As one of this writer’s former bosses said, “I like my staff, but I am not your kissin’ cousin!”) Rather, a boss or supervisor simply needs to show genuine concern for the person as an individual, and as a valued member of your team. That goes a long way toward an enhanced environment of excellence.
Change for Excellence
Change is not comfortable. But, it gives fresh opportunity for a new reach toward excellence! When you have a change in the director of financial aid position, it is not likely a desired change. But, it can be used as the opportunity to move forward. Any time there is a change in personnel, it may be viewed as a step toward further excellence. The person leaving laid a foundation, and hopefully a good one. But, if there were issues with the last incumbent, there is occasion for a fresh start now. Use the change for a push toward enhanced excellence!
In next week’s issue of our Regulatory Bulletin, we will look at another occurrence of change at a school that impacts the world of financial aid…potentially in a very significant way. This change is when there is a change in ownership of a school. In the meantime, look out for change…in a positive way!
* For those schools that may desire assistance in accomplishing one of the points designated in this article that is followed by an asterisk (*) at the end of the sentence, you may wish to consider the services available through FAME’s Consulting Services department.