Financial Aid Office Improving Services, Outreach to Students and Families

After an assessment provided recommendations, staff have begun to implement changes that enhance communication and processes and put students first.

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January 22, 2019

The George Washington University Office of Student Financial Assistance (OSFA) will create the Financial Aid Student Advisory Council this semester and, this fall, pair every student with one aid counselor who provides individualized and consistent support—two significant changes that will help students and their families navigate the aid process at GW.

The advisory council will allow students to provide direct feedback on their experiences with OSFA, such as challenges they encountered with services or confusing language on websites, and help GW determine how best to reach students and communicate with them proactively at key points in the financial aid process.

Meanwhile, the new aid counselor model aims to provide more personalized service to students by connecting them with an individual who is familiar with their case and can resolve particularly complex issues. Students will still have access to an entire team of staff from Colonial Student Services for routine matters.

“We recognize financial aid is complex and want to make it as easy as possible for students and their families, while communicating with them every step of the way,” said Laurie Koehler, senior vice provost for Enrollment and the Student Experience, which includes OSFA. “Our priority is delivering student-first service so all of our students can do what they came to GW to do—focus on their academics and co-curricular activities.”

The changes are among the first to be announced this semester and follow a comprehensive assessment of OSFA’s structure and operations that included interviews with students and more than 30 campus stakeholders involved in the aid process.

Given the significant increase in the volume of aid recipients at GW—33 percent over the past decade—a review of practices and processes was an “important tool in identifying how best to ensure a student-centered operation,” Ms. Koehler said.

The assessment recommended improvements in three categories: communication, business processes and organizational training and structure.

Michelle Arcieri, the newly appointed OSFA executive director and a veteran staff member of the office, will collaborate with the OSFA team and partners across the university to oversee changes.

Ms. Arcieri said that as a GW alumna and former work-study student, she “understands the frustration and confusion” some may experience throughout the financial aid process.

“We are committed to doing better, especially when it comes to proactively and personally communicating with students and families about their financial aid files and how we are actively working to address any concerns,” Ms. Arcieri said.

In the coming months OSFA, using feedback from the student advisory council, will develop plans to more effectively communicate with students and their families—from making web resources easier to understand to planning proactive communications and outreach efforts such as workshops or office hours.

To complement these initiatives, by fall 2019 GW also will give students and families access to a 24/7 service with an interactive “chatbot” that can answer GW-specific financial aid questions and includes an option for the user to get a callback from a university staff member for unresolved or complicated issues.

Another area of immediate attention for OSFA is automating as many manual and technical processes as possible and collaborating more closely with the Colonial Student Services staff at Colonial Central to strengthen their knowledge and ability to address a broad range of questions by email, phone or in-person. Both efforts aim to reduce wait times and improve service for students.

“These critical steps are designed to facilitate more positive experiences for students and families,” Ms. Arcieri said. “Behind the scenes, we are making improvements to remove cumbersome processes to enable staff to spend more of their time personally working with students.”

Over the spring GW also is identifying ways the Colonial Central space on the ground floor of the Marvin Center can be more welcoming and allow for more privacy for conversations related to financial matters.

Students may already have noticed some improvements the university implemented during the past year.

In October 2018 the university moved up the date it approves tuition rates and its financial aid budget, allowing students who have completed their aid applications to receive actual rather than estimated aid packages with their admission decisions. The university also streamlined processes in March 2018 to give graduate students their financial awards each spring rather than summer, allowing them more time to plan. Additionally, all students are now able to view their federal loan requirements online so they can more quickly fulfill missing documents or information and prevent delays in their award.

Student Association President Ashley Le said the SA is “excited to partner with the university to ensure that support services for our students will be improved.”

“We are confident the university is committed to these changes and particularly excited by the formation of a Financial Aid Student Advisory Council, which will provide a critical sounding board for administrators as they implement changes to the OSFA,” Ms. Le said.

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