October 1, 2017, marked the beginning of the 2018-2019 filing season for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). According to Edvisors, filers spend an average of 55 minutes filling out the form, and that doesn’t include preparation time. The filing process is notoriously complicated for students and parents seeking need-based aid, but also for higher education institutions that use FAFSA data to determine eligibility.
Schools are processing more financial aid applications, according to a 2017 Sallie Mae survey, as 86 percent of families filed FAFSA, compared to 74 percent 10 years ago. Also, experts are advising families to file as early as possible because many institutions distribute funds on a first-come, first-served basis. In fact, Edvisors.com research found that you double your chance at receiving grant money if you file in the first three months. That means institutions will see an avalanche of applications between now and the end of the year.
The complexity of the FAFSA and the increased volume of applications are overwhelming the financial aid offices of many institutions. They’re dealing with heavy inbound call volume, long lines of students who visit in person, and delays in the verification process. At the same time, tight budgets prevent schools from adding staff or resources, and service quality suffers.
Some institutions are outsourcing financial aid functions to overcome bottlenecks. A third-party contractor can handle a variety of tasks, from file verification to student record maintenance to contact center functions. However, you can’t simply flip a switch and have an outside contractor ride in on a white horse to instantly solve your financial aid problems. Outsourcing is complicated.
First, you have to weigh the costs of internal upgrades vs. outsourcing, as the cost of outsourcing tends to be underestimated. Contracts often include termination penalties, and it can be difficult to have your data returned from an outside party. If you decide to outsource, you have to identify service benchmarks and performance metrics. Then you have to choose a contractor that can not only meet your objectives, but deliver a positive experience for your students and maintain the reputation of your institution.
In many cases, the better investment is technology that can help you streamline processes and remove bottlenecks so you can manage financial aid internally. Axiom Elite is an automated data management solution, developed specifically for higher education, that reduces processing time, lowers costs and improves data accuracy. The Axiom Web add-on enables you to create customized online forms and shift to a paper-free system. Online forms can be tightly integrated with the financial aid module in your student information system.
Axiom Web features allow you to closely control your data and manage a number of financial aid functions, including the completion of state and federal authorization forms and the application for initial federal aid. It also allows you to manage independent and dependent student verification tracking, estimate financial aid awards using computational formulas, and create and distribute award letters.
Don’t let the complexity of the FAFSA and increased demand for financial aid create issues that could affect your institution’s reputation and enrollment numbers. Let us show you how the Axiom data management solution can help you simplify financial aid processes and avoid outsourcing.