Tips for Creating and Using an Operational Calendar

JCrissman-100x125A financial aid office tracks many different events, meetings, activities, deadlines, timelines required to meet deadlines, reports, training sessions, and student and other required communications; it’s easy to become overwhelmed with the prospect of compiling it all and creating a document where it will all be housed.

Our client experience at ECG has given us the opportunity to observe many different operations at colleges and universities throughout the country. One challenge shared by all financial aid administrators is trying to juggle all the requirements imposed primarily by factors outside the aid office. Those that utilize some type of planning tool, like a calendar, not only have a better grasp on the happenings in their world, but they also have evidence that can be used to demonstrate to other institutional administrators (bosses), just how many things you have to balance in your job. So, let’s take a look at some options for creating an operational calendar.

First, you should carefully consider the following questions:

  • How will you use the calendar? Will it be an office-wide calendar for all staff, or just for you and your management team?
  • Will you have a separate institutional calendar for those related activities, or will you compile institutional, state, regional, and federal events into one calendar?

The idea of capturing everything you are responsible for in your job can be daunting, and you may try several formats for your operational calendar before you find the one that meets your needs. So, without suggesting a particular format, let’s look at the types of things you may want to include.

Institutional Information for an Operational Calendar – Most of this information can be found on the institution’s website, the catalog, or in internal communications. Calendar entries to consider include:

  • Admission dates/deadlines
  • Prospective student visitations
  • Orientation for new students
  • Registration for classes
  • Term start and end dates for classes
  • Census dates – last date to drop
  • First day to charge books (if eligible)
  • First day credit refund checks may be sent
  • Holidays and class breaks
  • Events, activities, & “command performances”
  • Deadlines for reporting foreign gifts or contracts worth more than $250,000 in a calendar year (school must report by either 1/31 or 7/31, depending on the earliest date after gift or contract received)
  • Institutional scholarship deadlines

Financial Aid Information for Operational Calendar – The list below provides suggested categories for specific calendar entries. The categories and calendar items are examples only, and are not intended to be all inclusive.

Administrative Capability – Dates/Deadlines for:

  • Staff meetings
  • Annual staff performance evaluations
  • Reviewing responsibilities of other institutional offices (i.e., to ensure separation of duties, etc.)
  • Reviewing/sharing cohort default rates with other campus areas
  • Reports to management (monthly, quarterly, annually)
  • System setup
  • Office budgets
  • Budget for conferences, training, etc.

Communications – Dates/Deadlines for:

  • Annual updates for the website, school catalog, or other communications to current and prospective students
  • Annual updates to consumer information and cost of attendance components

Applications, Reporting & Reconciliation – Dates/Deadlines for:

  • Preparing/filing the Fiscal Operations Report and Application to Participate (FISAP)
  • National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS) reporting
  • Monthly & annual program-specific reporting/reconciliation
  • Gainful employment reporting
  • Campus-based programs reallocation application
  • Work Colleges Program report of previous award year expenditures
  • Application and agreement for participation in Work Colleges Program
  • Annual Security Report
  • Fire Safety Report
  • Quality Assurance (QA) Schools to upload data; complete FSA QA assessments; and file the annual ISIR Analysis Tool satisfaction survey
  • Remitting interest earned on FSA funds above $250
  • Campus-based award reduction penalty waiver request for underuse of prior year funds
  • Campus-based reallocation form/request for supplemental funds;
  • Request for a waiver of Federal Work-Study (FWS) community service expenditure requirement
  • Health Resources & Services Administration reporting (SDS, HPSL, NSL, LDS, and others)
  • Voter registration forms and  deadlines
  • Financial Assistance for Students with Intellectual Disabilities Expenditure Report
  • Return to Title IV (R2T4) calculations and refunds

Financial Aid Application – Dates/Deadlines for:

  • Availability of FAFSA and institutional application (if applicable)
  • Filing deadline(s)
  • Awarding preference deadline
  • Last day to submit previous year’s FAFSA

Packaging, Awarding, & Disbursements – Dates/Deadlines for:

  • Processing academic year and summer awards
  • Submitting corrections for federal application data to the Central Processing System (CPS)
  • Appeals
  • Disbursement dates
  • Satisfactory academic progress (SAP) review dates, notices, & appeals

Program-Specific Items – Dates/Deadlines for:

  • Federal Work-Study (FWS)
    • Finalizing off-campus contracts and other job agreements/contracts
    • Due dates for timesheets
    • Payments made/credits posted
    • Updating job descriptions
  • Federal Student Loans
    • Originating loans – last date to process for term
    • Entrance counseling, including information for new Direct Loan borrowers as of 7-1-2013 about 150% loan limit
    • Signing promissory notes
    • Crediting accounts/making disbursements;
    • Scheduling exit counseling/debt management/financial literacy programs

Calendar Formats – Electronic calendars can be presented in a number of different formats, and can easily be shared with others in your office. Choosing an e-calendar with an automatic signal that lets everyone know when something new has been added is a good option to ensure that everyone is up-to-date.

Depending on the size of your office and number of staff, you might find that it is just as easy to create a calendar format that can adjust when new events are added. Regardless of what format you choose, as you are developing your operational calendar, it is a good practice to ask all staff to contribute so they have some ownership and can track events related to their particular responsibilities.

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