Providing Emergency Financial Aid at the Right Time

By Ruben Garcia, September 22, 2017 — Students and families save for years to afford the cost of higher education and secure financial aid, grants and scholarships to fill the gaps, but they can’t anticipate every contingency in life. A job loss, sudden illness, or other family crisis can derail the best laid plans once the student is on campus.

Some financial aid departments are fortunate to have a discretionary fund that would allow them to provide students facing a financial emergency a short-term loan or grant to pay for direct costs such as books, tuition and fees to keep the student in school. Even if they don’t however, they can also help the student adjust their FAFSA information to reflect their current financial situation. As importantly, modern technology can help institutions deliver emergency financial aid faster and more efficiently.

Today’s financial aid and student information systems should be able to process emergency financial aid and short-term loans at any time throughout the school term while ensuring regulatory compliance. If the institution has a discretionary fund that has been designated for such circumstances, the system will keep outstanding balances separate from the original students account, allowing for repayment of the loan separate from the original student account.

Another option that colleges or universities have is to provide students emergency financial assistance that enables small incremental payments against tuition and fees. If the system is flexible enough, they can create a variety of payment plan options and promissory notes (even cash payment options) that will get posted to the student’s account automatically.

Leveraging a modern platform’s forms builders, workflows and eventing tools along with built-in CRM to create electronic forms, institutions can assist students facing a financial emergency and deliver funds on short notice without a lot of manual processing, additional staffing or risk of mistakes. Should a financial situation change, the student will go to a website to complete the request for assistance. Upon completing the form, the information will be captured and stored in the student document center. As the form is submitted, automated notifications will be sent to the financial aid department, along with other departments and personnel the institution has designated. The financial aid department can then create CRM communications and campaigns to ensure students know this option is available to them, along with guidance and links to put their applications for emergency aid in motion.

These features can also be used throughout an institution’s departments to execute retention campaigns, acknowledgement campaigns, document collection campaigns, emergency notifications and much more.

As a former financial aid manager, I embraced the best practice of encouraging all students to complete a FAFSA application, even if they think they won’t need assistance. With the right system, the institution can then execute a continuous, configurable, and automated communication campaign via email, text or web alerts with a variety of compelling messages for students who have not completed the FAFSA. The entire process is automated, so there are little if any additional demands on personnel to manage the communication process.

With the right combination of technology and best practices, institutions today have the resources they need to keep students on track with their academic and career goals, in the best and worst of times.

Ruben Garcia is Principal Product Manager at Campus Management Corp.

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