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Making Time for Counseling in a Compliance-Heavy Job

Las Vegas — Working in financial aid is about more than just following a bunch of rules. Justin Draeger, president of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, made that point during the opening session of the group’s annual meeting here on Sunday. Aid administrators, he said, have to be there for their students.

Lori Blevins agrees. Ms. Blevins is director of admissions and financial aid at Davidson County Community College, in North Carolina. The state has relatively low tuition rates, Ms. Blevins said in a presentation on Sunday afternoon. Even so, she said, her college’s students “wouldn’t be here” without aid. Many of them, she said, have expected family contributions of zero dollars.

All of the other work aid administrators do is for nothing, Ms. Blevins said, if students remain confused. That means staff members must interact with students before they enroll, help them form realistic ideas about what aid can and cannot do, and make sure they understand when they will have their money so they can plan accordingly. Such information should be shared multiple times, she said, and, ideally, “eyeball to eyeball.”

“We’ve changed our view of financial aid,” Ms. Blevins said. “It’s not just a resource. It’s not just a process. It’s a retention tool.”

So counseling students is crucial. But finding the time for it still isn’t easy. At her college, the aid office has turned to training, technology, and outsourcing to give staff members more time for students, Ms. Blevins said.

Davidson County is one of several North Carolina community colleges to have outsourced the verification of students’ financial-aid information to a third party, through a partnership with the College Foundation Inc., a state service. That has allowed Ms. Blevins and her staff to spend less time pushing paper, and more time helping people.

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