Consider IT

How well do you know your Financial Aid Management System (FAMS)? You are in it every day and using it every day – do you know what it is doing? Do you know if it is doing what it is supposed to be doing? Do you know if it is regulatory compliant?

Whether your FAMS is Banner, PeopleSoft, or PowerFAIDS, these are just a few questions every financial aid administrator should be asking; after all, every financial aid office utilizes and depends on its FAMS for processing. Of course, the issue with a FAMS is that its complexities demand technologically savvy individuals to set up and maintain it. So then, are you able to be a financial aid administrator and an information technology specialist? Are you able to be fully knowledgeable of all the rules, regulations and procedures of financial aid and also fully knowledgeable of how your FAMS works and how to make it work?

I would venture to guess that there are not many who are able to be 100% both a financial aid administrator and an information technology specialist. Some of us tip to one side of the scale, others to the other side, and others balance the scale. What is probably true of all financial aid offices is that we rely on other individuals to help us with our FAMS. I have been in the financial aid industry long enough (and it actually hasn’t been very long) to see the increased reliance on technology and the dependency of the financial aid office on their campus’ IT office.

With greater dependency on the IT office it becomes necessary to build and maintain relationships. Maybe your office is struggling with your FAMS, or maybe you are doing quite well, but I want to offer up some tips to help you build and maintain a strong relationship between your office and your IT folks so that you can come to trust in your system because you trust your IT staff:

1. Communication

How well and how often does your office communicate with your IT staff? Does your IT staff understand the importance of what you are trying to do (for example, do they understand that the entire university could be in jeopardy of losing Title IV funding if your FAMS or a process is not regulatory compliant?) Does your office understand your IT office’s time constraints? Do you know who does what in your IT office?

Tips:

• Take the time to communicate with the chair of the IT office. They may not completely understand how important it is to have IT support and what some of the ramifications might be.

• Remember that while it may seem urgent and important to you, the university does not revolve around the financial aid office. Try to understand what is going on in the IT office and seek to establish/maintain an understanding and friendly relationship.

• Send applicable IT staff to conferences and training (Summer Institute would be an excellent option) to further their understanding of what you do – this is a great way to start an open channel of communication.

• I have also heard that chocolate chip cookies bridge a lot of communication problems.

2. Integration

Does your office have a dedicated member of the IT office to assist you? Do they feel like they are a part of your financial aid team, or do they feel like an add-on?

Tips:

• Have at least one of your staff members be a liaison between you and your IT office and funnel all IT-related questions/issues through that staff member.

• Request that your IT staff be a part of your office periodically throughout the week.

• Setup a workstation that your IT staff can use when they are in your office.

• Again, send applicable IT staff to financial aid conferences and training.

3. Education

How well does your office stay up to date on what your FAMS has to offer? Do you know what to do if you have an idea on how to make your system work better or if you encounter a defect with your system?

• Attend workshops that are offered by your software provider. Hopefully you will be able to get some questions answered there, but you should also be able to network with your provider and other colleagues.

• Attend workshops that are offered by your colleagues. Most of the time, I get great ideas from other users of our FAMS and they are an invaluable resource.

• Ask your IT office about the best way to communicate with your provider – they may want you to funnel your questions and ideas through their office, or they may give you the direct channel to your provider.

My final tip to help you with your technology needs is to reach out to your colleagues who are, like you, a daily user of your system. If you’re not sure who to contact, use RMASFAA’s website to search the membership directory for those that have expertise with your FAMS. It might also be helpful to help your IT office network with other college’s IT offices – ask your colleagues who a good IT contact would be at their institution.

Hopefully these tips will help you and your office have a strong relationship with one of the offices that you depend on the most. As a friend (and the Beatles) has told me time and time again – “I get by with a little help from my friends.”

Thad Davidson
Assistant Director
Emporia State University

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