In order to provide parents and students with the best customer service possible, financial aid administrators must have a working knowledge of federal, state, and institutional policies and procedures. To ensure everyone in the Northwest Arkansas Community College (NWACC) financial aid office is equipped with the most pertinent information, Director of Financial Aid Michelle Cordell is offering her staff the training and access to NASFAA University courses they need to show they are well-versed in higher education financial aid.
“I’ve felt throughout my professional career that training is important, especially for financial aid departments, which may not be as valued as other departments on a campus,” Cordell said. “Others may not be aware of how much knowledge [financial aid staff] need to do their jobs effectively.”
Cordell said that she is offering NASFAA U courses to members of her staff who want to earn credentials that apply to their job duties. The first group to earn credentials was the six-member customer service staff, which earned the Student Eligibility credential.
Cordell said the group chose to pursue the Student Eligibility credential because it would give them a wider range of knowledge to address students’ questions and concerns.
“We are ‘front-line contacts,’” said Sherry Hillman, who staffs the phones as NWACC’s student loan officer. “We’re the ones most often answering questions about student eligibility.”
The knowledge and credibility from the course is already helping members of the staff, including Lea Sutherland, who joined NWACC earlier this year as a financial aid analyst. “The test gave me an opportunity to understand some things that I should be looking for as a verifier and to better understand how to answer students’ questions, which helped me feel more comfortable with my job,” Sutherland said.
Nancy March, a customer service staff member with 15 years of financial aid experience, said that in her role it can be difficult to stay up-to-date with new procedures and requirements. The credential “gave me some confidence to explain [procedures and regulations] to students when they have a problem with eligibility,” March said.
Cordell’s staff said they benefited from a teamwork approach to preparing for the test. With Cordell’s permission, they used work time to study, using the NASFAA study guide to direct their preparation and creating flash cards to quiz each other. Staff members also created new questions for one another, which Hillman says was particularly helpful.
The credentialing process was also “very helpful in pointing out the areas we need to look at specifically as an office and a team to make sure we’re providing information to students in the right way,” Sutherland said.
The newly-credentialed staff members say they would recommend pursuing a NASFAA credential to other professionals who work in financial aid offices.
“There’s a lot of good information,” says Alicia Gates, NWACC’s financial aid secretary. “I learned a lot in studying and taking the test. I know it will be helpful in future interactions with students.”
Publication Date: 5/7/2013