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Financial Aid

Located in Myrtle Hall, the Pratt Institute’s Bursar and Financial Aid offices have taken a holistic approach to serving students.

Managing personal finance is difficult enough for working professionals. For college students, it can be almost impossible. Part of the reason is that there are multiple finance-related aspects to higher education, and they have different, often confusing languages, says Nedi Goga, executive director of student financial services and compliance at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.

Until 2009, students at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College (N.C.) could wait as long as two hours to be seen by a counselor in student services, which includes the offices of admissions, advising, financial aid, and the registrar. After signing in on a sheet of paper in one of the four offices, students waited to be seen. Sometimes they were then referred to another office, where they got in the back of the line. The process was not only time-consuming, but  frustrating.

Financial aid verification was a cumbersome, paper-intensive project that took 6-8 weeks and was prone to errors. With an automated verification solution, DCCCD shaved weeks off the schedule, reduced and realigned staff resources, and even retained some at-risk students.

When applying for any of the more than 200 institutional scholarships at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, whose worldwide campus is based in Daytona Beach, Fla., students used to complete an online form and then spend time gathering an essay and 15 to 20 pages of additional hardcopy documentation. Financial aid staff then sorted and filed it all away in physical file folders.

Being able to buy books early often makes the shopping experience better.

The purchase of textbooks and other educational materials before the start of the semester has numerous benefits: Students are better prepared heading into classes; faculty can begin teaching from the books immediately; and the bookstore is less crowded during that first manic week. But for students on financial aid at Western Washington University, where funding is disbursed on the first day of class, being well prepared came at a price.

California State University, San Bernardino used to receive approximately 600 completed scholarship applications for the 200 or so on-campus scholarships. On average, 300 additional applications were initiated but never completed. Those were lost opportunities, in part due to the arduous application process, says Louise Jones, financial aid advisor and scholarship coordinator.

Community college students are more likely to have extra demands on their time and attention, from jobs to family commitments. Anything colleges can do to relieve administrative burdens means more time that students can concentrate on their studies. At Houston Community College, the Information Technology office teamed with the Office of Student Financial Services and the Finance and Accounting office to move to paperless cashiering.

Upfront estimate: When a student signs in, he or she receives a ticket with the likely wait time.

At some point during the year, nearly every one of the 4,400 students at Ogeechee Technical College (Ga.) will have a reason to visit the college’s Student Affairs Center (SAC). This central administrative unit houses Admissions, Financial Aid, the Registrar, and Career Services. In 2011, 24,869 student appointments were made with as many as 320 students a day visiting during peak times; during quieter periods, between 80 and 100 students are seen.

With most students choosing easy online registration these days, Student Services Center wait times now average just two minutes.

Creating a one-stop student services center in 2005 at Wilkes University (Pa.) seemed like a good idea at the time. These popular organizational structures have typically been a cost-cutting measure introduced to allow educational institutions to do more with less. At Wilkes, a one-stop shop was created by co-locating the services of the Registrar, Financial Aid, Admissions Processing, and Cashier.

Students have enough on their plates without having to worry about properly receiving their work-study hours from their financial aid packages. But, paper time cards and siloed systems were making life difficult for students and staff alike at Catawba College (N.C.).