Share Tweet Share Email

Dollars and Sense: NIU creates Student Financial Advising Services

November 10, 2021

NIU has launched Student Financial Advising Services to help prospective and current Huskies understand and manage the costs of higher education.

Anne Hardy, director of Scholarships and Student Financial Advising Services

Led by Anne Hardy, the office employs three full-time financial advisers (including a bilingual representative for Spanish speakers) who currently offer virtual appointments and are available during some evening and weekend hours.

Born of NIU’s commitment to student success, the new operation will open for walk-up traffic in Campus Life Building 260 in spring 2022.

All are welcome, including graduate, law and international students.

“Provost Ingram and Vice Provost Ghrayeb were very interested in expanding our service levels, especially considering NIU’s great number of first-generation students,” Hardy says. “It’s so important to get in front of students and their families to guide them through the financial process, because it is complex and can be overwhelming.”

Hardy, who reports to the vice president for Enrollment Management, Marketing and Communications as well as to the associate vice provost for Student Success, is energized to build the still-evolving unit from the ground up.

“The staff in the Financial Aid and Scholarship Office, as well as the Office of the Bursar, have always provided excellent student service,” Hardy says.

“With the creation of this new unit, however, we now have a dedicated customer service team who can do proactive outreach, and we can spend all of our time educating and advising students and families on all things related to financial aid, general student accounts and financial literacy throughout their journey here,” she adds, “including helping them to prepare for some of the real-world things that they’ll run into once they’ve graduated.”

Much of the work is “a lot of walking through, ‘This is what your financial aid is. This is what your student account is. These are your next steps financially.’ ”

“One of the things that I’m really excited about is that we’ve created a checklist of all the things undergraduates have to do related to financial tasks – and there are a lot of them.  It really helps to keep students on track” says Hardy, whose new title is director of Scholarships and Student Financial Advising Services.

Advisers Angie Gutierrez-Vargas, Jon Miller and Jorie O’Brien also can explain to students how financial aid packages can change over time and how that actuality, along with other decisions the students make about their education, then impacts costs of attendance. This team brings many years of experience working with students and families, and each is committed to supporting student success.

Consequently, their expertise can answer the inevitable next question: “My financial aid changed. Now what happens?” They also can help students create multi-year financial plans, stay on track with those plans and adjust as needed.

Students still can engage with NIU financial aid counselors or the bursar’s staff for help in such situations, but Hardy’s team is dedicated to that type of assistance.

“What set us apart is that our staff does not do any processing, so we don’t make decisions about financial aid eligibility. We don’t enter information. We don’t process FAFSAs. We don’t serve on any committees that make determinations about dollar amounts,” she adds. “We’re really kind of that neutral party that’s advising and educating students about their options.”

Gutierrez-Vargas, Miller and O’Brien also are available on request to give presentations to classes or student organizations, and Hardy has scheduled pop-up workshops later this semester on Satisfactory Academic Progress appeals and how to apply for scholarships. Additional presentations will be offered throughout the spring semester on various timely financial topics.

Meanwhile, with a suite of financial services that goes far beyond cost of attendance, including guidance on budgeting, credit, debt and even auto loan payment plans, the trio of advisers also can help students troubleshoot.

“If, in the course of our conversations, we realize that they mentioned living off campus and that they don’t have money for groceries, we can connect them to our Center for Student Assistance and the Huskie Food Pantry. We really are trying to look at the whole situation, which allows us to create and cultivate a culture of care,” Hardy says.

“There is some level of intervention that we can do but, mostly, we try to teach the students how to be their own advocates. We can explain in detail, ‘This is what you need to do. This is what you need to say. This is who you need to ask,’ ” she adds. “We’re not trying to pass the student around, of course, but working to empower and educate them.”

Hardy hopes she can add more full-time staff and student-workers in the future as the office commits to follow-up communications that maintain relationships and services.

“We really hope to have an impact on student retention and graduation,” she says. “Understanding the financial commitment related to being a college student is important to maximize your options and to take advantage of every opportunity that might be available.”

For more information, email [email protected].