Establishing a Publicity Campaign for Financial Aid
Shaun Hoff, Assistant Director/Compliance Coordinator, SUNY New Paltz
Planning a publicity campaign for the benefit of students and parents takes a great deal of time and energy, but if organized properly, can be a great way to communicate important information to students. For the last two academic years, the Financial Aid Office at the State University of New York (SUNY) at New Paltz established a publicity campaign to inform students of significant changes to the financial aid application and verification process, as well as to raise awareness to financial aid applicants about using the IRS Data Retrieval tool.
At the start of the campaign, the office staff discussed what we wanted to accomplish. The goal was to communicate the latest financial aid changes to applicants. We anticipated numerous questions about the changes, as well as problems and challenges being experienced by applicants. We hoped the campaign would be a proactive way to address these issues. Applicants were informed that the U.S. Department of Education decided upon the IRS Data Retrieval tool to streamline the financial aid application process to make it more accurate.
The publicity explained that this time saving feature allows financial aid applicants and their parents to retrieve, directly from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), certain income and information from income tax returns and to automatically transfer that information directly to the FAFSA application. Frequently asked questions were developed on the office website and in a handout format for walk-ins. We explained the new IRS Data Retrieval process, how long it takes for IRS tax return data to become available on the FAFSA, informed applicants that photocopies of tax returns no longer satisfy verification requirements, how to request a tax return transcript from the IRS, and how tax filers with special tax filing circumstances can complete verification.
In addition to e-mail notices being sent to students and updating explanatory literature, various promotional resources were utilized to raise awareness of the college’s priority FAFSA application filing deadlines and the use of the IRS Data Retrieval tool. Promotional advertisements were developed to communicate the preferred process of applying for financial aid, using the IRS Data Retrieval tool two weeks after taxes are filed electronically, and about the FAFSA and tax returns being filed electronically. We looked at our past ads, thought about what could be improved upon, and brainstormed about new and inventive ways to communicate the messages.
Table tents, flyers, and posters were developed to publicize the preferred process and placed in all of the dining areas, residence halls, departments, and main buildings on campus. The Financial Aid Office even partnered with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program that is offered by the SUNY New Paltz School of Business during the spring semester. As a result, the preferred financial aid process was announced and copies of the promotional flyers were distributed to those students who sought free tax preparation assistance on campus. Similarly, small flyers were distributed by Undergraduate Admissions to freshman and transfer applicants who visited the college campus.
During the spring semester, several traditional media outlets were taken advantage of including a one minute radio spot announcing information on the campus radio station. Versions of the promotional advertisements were also posted on the campus television station’s message board and information was printed in the New Paltz Oracle weekly newspaper for students, as well as in the News Pulse faculty/staff newsletter. Likewise, the promotional advertisements were also posted as an announcement on digital monitor television screens, which are located in various departments on campus.
A headline link about the preferred process was also made available during the spring semester on the college’s main website linking applicants to our website for further information and resources. Finally, the office developed a step by step video tutorial to explain how applicants can use the IRS Data Retrieval tool on the FAFSA. The video included screenshots and a voiceover to detail the process, provided tips and navigation instructions, as well as answers to commonly asked verification questions.
Each time you plan a publicity campaign you will gain new insight on how to make next year’s campaign superior. If you follow these suggested ideas, you will have done everything in your control to make the campaign the best it can be! For further information about the SUNY New Paltz Office of Financial Aid please visit http://www.newpaltz.edu/financialaid.