Three of the most dreaded words in the English language are “financial aid application.” Parents hate it. Students fear it. And administrators try not to be overwhelmed by all the documentation associated with it.
The good news for North Carolina State University’s graduate school: applications have been increasing by 5 percent to 10 percent per year. The bad news: it was putting a strain on already overtaxed admissions staff.
Faced with a rising applicant population and the desire to continue to provide one-on-one attention to strong student candidates, officials at LIM College in New York City feared declining enrollment if they could not find a way to clone their four admissions counselors or completely revamp the counselors’ role. With the help of consultants from GDA Integrated Services, LIM (formerly known as the Laboratory Institute of Merchandising) managed to do both, in a manner of speaking.
In these days of instantaneous communication, having to wait for an answer feels anachronistic. If our e-mail isn’t returned within five minutes, we call our colleague to make sure she got it. Technology, it seems, has sped communication as well as slowed it down, as multiple means of messaging?telephones, online channels, face-to-face conversation?crowd one another for attention.
The iTunes generation is used to buying music, watching television, and playing video games on screens perched in their laps, not going to record stores, student lounges, or mall arcades. Getting all of that information from faraway servers to laptop computers places an enormous burden on campus networking resources and IT departments, many of which are underfunded and understaffed, yet are expected to meet students’ expectations of ever quicker access to entertainment.
Anyone who’s done a home remodel knows the incredible amount of paperwork it generates. Agreements, invoices, punch lists, change orders, and more have to be mailed, faxed, consulted, and filed, so that by the time the project is done, the homeowner can be forgiven for feeling as if he’s drowning in forms.
Higher education has its own special kind of bureaucracy, but even by those standards, the convoluted process by which Jamestown Community College (N.Y.) contracted with faculty members to teach extra courses stood out. From creation to submission with payroll, the documents touched more than half a dozen pairs of hands, sometimes delaying payment and increasing the likelihood of misplacement. They were created anew each semester with information from a database that wasn’t always updated, resulting in data entry errors.
Extended-learning schools are inherently more complex than traditional undergraduate programs, typical graduate programs, and professional colleges. A more varied student base has much broader goals. Most offer more distance-learning options, and students must be served equally well, whether the next town over or half a country away. San Diego State University’s College of Extended Studies, with 25,000 students, is no different. But with seven databases, three payment systems, and no “live” registration, an already complex operation became that much more difficult.
Capella University’s financial aid office faces challenges few other higher institutions do. Unlike universities with traditional four-year students, Capella serves a population of 39,000 students with an average age of 39 and work and family responsibilities that can interfere with their studies. Capella learners are more likely to start and stop their degree pursuits. And with each change in enrollment status comes a need to change financial aid status. Prior to 2009, a single financial aid adjustment took only 15 minutes to process, but 15 days to get to.