Executive Director of Student Financial Services & Director of Financial Aid at SMU

Southern Methodist University is pleased to announce its search for a newly created, student-centered financial position, Executive Director of Student Financial Services & Director of Financial Aid. Reporting within the Division of Enrollment Services (DES), the new position will serve a critical role in the Division’s commitment to support students in their dream to graduate with an SMU degree, particularly those from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds or limited-income families. In doing so, DES seeks to “Make it easier for Mustangs to be scholars” – a conscious and collaborative effort to streamline enrollment services so that students can focus on their academic journey.   The Executive Director will also help lead the Division as it strives to improve the student enrollment experience and to create functional capacity to implement the University’s strategic academic initiatives.  The new Executive Director of Student Financial Services & Director of Financial Aid will play a critical role in meeting these objectives.

The Executive Director of Student Financial Services & Director of Financial Aid will provide leadership, strategy, and management of the financial aid office for all undergraduate and graduate students, and will develop student financial aid policies, procedures, and reports for approximately $350 million of federal, state, and institutional aid (grants and loans) in compliance with all applicable regulations.  The Executive Director will supply integrated strategic and operational solutions based on data and best professional practices to accomplish SMU's enrollment goals and will develop undergraduate net tuition revenue models on which about 45 percent of the University's operating budget depends.  In addition, the Executive Director will lead efforts to combine student aid and account services into a seamless, unified unit using effective, student-centered technologies and processes. The position will report to the Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management and work in partnership with the Associate Vice President for Budgets & Finance.

Duties and Responsibilities as the Executive Director of Student Financial Services:  In addition to traditional responsibilities for a Director of Financial Aid (outlined below), the Executive Director will lead initiatives to align business processes, systems, and service standards across financial aid and student accounts.  The Executive Director will collaborate to combine the student facing services of the Offices of Financial Aid and the University Bursar to form the Office of Student Financial Services, which this person will lead.  This person will play the prominent role in unifying the services, processes, and communications that support students and families in answering all questions pertaining to affordability and paying for an SMU education, with a heightened commitment to consistent and effective standards for customer service.

To begin the process of aligning financial aid and student accounts, technical operations and systems analysts from both areas have already combined to form a new Student Financials Operations & Business Functions team, under the new Student Financial Services model. As part of the alignment process, the Executive Director will help guide a reimplementation of the PeopleSoft module for student financials (bursar) and adopting additional functionality for the financial aid module.

Duties and Responsibilities as the Director of Financial Aid:  As Director, the successful candidate will perform the duties of managing all functions of an efficient, compliant, and student-oriented financial aid program.  The Director of Financial Aid will lead, mentor, and guide the office and the campus community in all areas related to financial aid eligibility and compliance. The Director should possess strong communication skills, a commitment to excellent service, and willingness to collaborate especially with the Office of Undergraduate Admission and with the academic units.  The Director will execute, lead, motivate, and energize all within the new Student Financial Services operations, and will foster a supportive environment and build a foundation of leadership, trust, and investment in the professional development of team members. The Director will set goals, guidelines, and expectations while allowing for skilled autonomy in individual roles. Employing best practices in customer service and compliance, the Director will continuously evaluate and improve the operations and processes within the office to ensure operations are flowing as seamlessly as possible.  The Director will facilitate training, support, and professional development that will generate an effective and efficient environment that benefits team members, the SMU community, and the students and families that the team serves.

The Executive Director of Student Financial Services & Director of Financial Aid will enjoy a unique opportunity to lead student financial strategy and services as the University embarks on a $1.5 billion campaign.  The primary goal of the campaign is to empower outstanding students by enabling them to attend SMU regardless of financial means. This and other initiatives signal how the Division and the University embraces innovative and student-centric approaches supporting students from all backgrounds in effective and compassionate ways.

Primary Functions:

  • Direct and oversee awarding, processing and distribution of federal, state, and institutional financial aid to undergraduate, graduate, and professional students in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations. Maximize the strategic impact of available funds. Foster transparent, efficient processes and services that support student success among underrepresented, first-generation, and low-income students.
  • Lead and manage the Office of Financial Aid (27 FTE) including advising for undergraduate and graduate students and the operations team for financial aid and student accounts. Engage regularly with staff to ensure excellent service to students and campus partners and impeccable compliance with applicable regulations to maximize the positive impact of the University's resources.
  • Ensure sound data management practices and policies in line with SMU Data Governance standards. Contribute positively to a culture of data-informed decision making - especially related to aid optimization, customer service, and other enrollment services. Work closely with the Office of Institutional Research in providing reports for the Division, Provost and other senior University leaders.
  • Work closely with campus leaders on the modeling and optimization of institutional financial aid to produce the desired results for undergraduate academic quality, student diversity, and net tuition revenue. Ensure that institutional aid maximizes the achievement of university goals for student success. Provide regular reports on the effective use of institutional funds to support SMU's enrollment goals.
  • Serve as the responsible authority for required state, federal and institutional reports related to financial aid and student account policies and procedures. Monitor compliance with applicable regulations and submit required documentation to federal and state regulatory bodies.
  • Participate in the life of the University by serving on committees or task forces and engaging in strategic conversations and educational activities to help SMU achieve its goals. Assist in the daily management and operations of the Division of Enrollment Services as a member of the DES leadership team.  Support the division goals aimed at achieving its purpose to "Make it easier for Mustangs to be scholars."
  • Represent the University through professional organizations, community engagement, and speaking engagements to educate students and families about the financial aid process generally and the financial aid opportunities at SMU specifically.

Qualifications, Qualities, and Characteristics
The successful candidate for the Executive Director of Student Financial Services & Director of Financial Aid position must have a deep background of leading (as a director or leadership team member) a financial aid office for a comprehensive, four-year university, with a strong preference for working in financial aid at a private, not-for-profit university.  A bachelor’s degree is required; and an advanced degree is strongly preferred.  In addition, they should possess:

Leadership Traits

  • Experience as a leader, providing vision and clear communication of vision;
  • Skills as a mentor and manager able to build an efficient and positive office culture that serves students well and shapes, unifies, and empowers a team to provide the highest levels of customer service;
  • Expertise in business processes aimed at excellent customer service;
  • Propensity to thrive and flourish in a rapidly changing and collaborative environment, energized by the opportunity to offer a consistent and disciplined approach to new challenges;
  • An even temperament and other desirable skills in leading change effectively;
  • Ability to implement efficient, on-going training and professional development that will add consistency of message and compliance accuracy for all team members, and in particular for the public-facing financial counselors;

Knowledge & Experiences

  • Experience with complex, net tuition revenue modeling and institutional strategies (either with outside partners or independently) with the ability to analyze and interpret financial data and contribute to strategic enrollment discussions;
  • Prior work with NCAA Division I intercollegiate athletics grants in aid is preferred;
  • Strong project management skills and organizational ability to implement and manage projects across multiple functional areas; ability to prioritize projects and initiatives according to Division and University priorities;
  • Extensive knowledge of a financial aid module in a large-scale student information system required, with PeopleSoft skills preferred;
  • Experience with and an understanding of CRM and student service-related technologies, such as Slate and CampusLogic;
  • Extensive knowledge of state and federal regulations and requirements for compliance as well as related processes;
  • Experience or familiarity with CSS Profile for the determination of institutional need-based eligibility;
  • Ability to design or manipulate simple queries of data (SQL knowledge is a plus);
  • Microsoft Office Suite including significant Excel skills;
  • Strong technological skills with the ability to assess the value of new and proposed systems for seamless financial aid and billing practices;

Professional Attributes

  • Creative, innovative, proactive and collaborative in problem solving and on-going process improvements;
  • Excellent written and oral communications and analytical skills that can provide directive and persuasive initiatives or explanations;
  • Clear understanding of how to successfully multi-task and engage staff through transparent delegation of responsibilities;
  • Engagement in national or regional professional organizations, with involvement in organizational leadership or presentations preferred;
  • Decisive and solutions-oriented work style;
  • A calm and flexible nature with the aptness to enjoy a complex environment designed for continuous change and growth;
  • English language required and Spanish language a plus.

The University
Southern Methodist University is located in the heart of Dallas, in the beautiful residential enclave of the Park Cities, with an additional campus in Taos, New Mexico. SMU is a major contributor to the Dallas economy and enriches the community through diverse educational and cultural opportunities. SMU is the only NCAA Division I university in Dallas. The University offers a complete undergraduate experience with highly ranked programs in the liberal arts, business, pre-professional studies, engineering, performing arts, and human development.

The University was founded 100 years ago as a partnership between the Methodist church and the people of Dallas and has been shaped ever since by a commitment to academic freedom and open inquiry as well as the entrepreneurial spirit of the region. Dallas’ position as an international business and cultural center has enhanced the University’s ability to attract and retain top faculty and students, making SMU a nationally prominent university with a global reach.

SMU’s student population reached 12,385 in Fall, 2021 (6,908 undergraduates, 1,572 of which were first year; 5,477 graduate and professional students).  SMU students are diverse, high-achieving students coming from all 50 states and 83 countries to take advantage of the University’s small classes, hands-on research opportunities, leadership development, community service, international study and innovative programs.

The University offers a strong foundation in the humanities and sciences and undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs through eight schools. Undergraduate degrees are offered in the Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, as well as in the Lyle School of Engineering, the Cox School of Business, Meadows School of the Arts, and the Simmons School of Education and Human Development. SMU has graduate-only programs in the Perkins School of Theology and Dedman School of Law. In 2020, SMU established the Moody School of Graduate and Advanced Studies through a landmark $100 million commitment from the Moody Foundation. SMU has set the following four University-wide strategic academic priorities:

In addition, Southern Methodist University is engaged in ongoing and exciting strategy, research, and fundraising to increase the quality of life for students:

  • A $1.5 billion fundraising campaign SMU Ignited includes a commitment to empower outstanding students – transforming lives of high-achieving students by enabling them to attend SMU regardless of financial means;
  • A current review of human, financial, physical and technology resources in the Division of Enrollment Services is aimed at ensuring that these resources are allocated to ensure effective operational impact and to maximize the Division’s contributions to the four strategic academic priorities;
  • The University is increasing its commitment to access, equity, inclusiveness, and belonging by meeting the full demonstrated need for the highest-achieving first-year students from the lowest-income households (Pell eligible) in Texas. This plan will begin with the entering first-year class for Fall 2022.
  • The University has a long tradition of supporting women and gender equity including through the Women’s Center at SMU, an annual Women’s Symposium, the SMU President’s Commission on the Status of Women, an unusually high percentage of women in engineering, and a strong partnership with the Women’s Initiative Team at the George W. Bush Institute on SMU’s campus.

For more about SMU, visit smu.edu.

The Region
With a population exceeding 6.8 million, greater Dallas is the ninth-largest city in the United States, third-largest city in Texas and fifth-most diverse metropolitan area in the nation. It offers access to all of the cultural, athletic, and recreational opportunities of a major urban center as well as an enviably low cost of living. Residents appreciate a tremendous array of options for dining, sports, arts, concerts, shopping, community service, outdoor activities, and more.  The area includes particularly strong communities of persons who identify as Latinx/Hispanic, Black/African American, and multiple Asian nationalities and cultures. As well, Dallas is home to the sixth largest LGBTQ+ population in the U.S. including a vibrant gay and queer-centric neighborhood minutes from campus.

North Texas is home to nearly twenty Fortune 500 companies and one of the world’s busiest international airports, and Dallas boasts the nation’s largest urban arts district, which consists of world class museums and a luminous cluster of performing arts spaces, highlighted by the Winspear Opera House, described by Opera magazine as America’s finest. With the Trinity River, White Rock Lake, almost 400 parks, and over 125 miles of urban hiking and biking trails, the city provides abundant opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. Because of its commitment to environmental sustainability, Dallas has been named one of the Greenest Cities in the world. SMU students and faculty utilize the Dallas metropolitan area as an extension of the classroom, characterized by engaged learning projects and community partnerships. Click here for more information on Dallas.


To Apply
Napier Executive Search is assisting Southern Methodist University in their search for this newly-created position of Executive Director of Student Financial Services & Director of Financial Aid. For more information or to nominate someone for this position, contact Robin Reynders at robin.reynders@napiersearch.com or Mary Napier at mary.napier@napiersearch.com for a confidential conversation. Interested candidates should submit a current resume along with a cover letter expressing interest in the position and in SMU, as well as qualifications for the position, to smu@napiersearch.com on or before February 15, 2022. Candidates should also provide the names and contact information for at least three references. References will not be contacted without permission. Finalists will be subject to standard background checks. The preferred start date will be late spring, 2022.

Southern Methodist University (SMU) will not discriminate in any employment practice, education program, education activity, or admissions on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, disability, genetic information, or veteran status. SMU’s commitment to equal opportunity includes nondiscrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. The Executive Director for Access and Equity/Title IX Coordinator is designated to handle inquiries regarding the nondiscrimination policies, including the prohibition of sex discrimination under Title IX1. The Executive Director/Title IX Coordinator may be reached at the Perkins Administration Building, Room 204, 6425 Boaz Lane, Dallas, TX 75205, 214-768-3601, accessequity@smu.edu. Inquiries regarding the application of Title IX may also be directed to the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education.

1 Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1681-1688.

Download Postition Profile