With the cost of a college education very much in the public eye, schools are taking great care to articulate the financial aid options they offer.
Scholarships are a significant part of such aid. Thanks to the generosity of alumni and other benefactors, colleges and universities can present to students a wide array of institutional grants to defray tuition.
The application and awarding processes can be complex and cumbersome, though. Many scholarships have particular requirements attached to them, requiring students to spend considerable time researching their eligibility and to submit reams of supporting documentation.
At Northern Michigan University, students applying for a Foundation Scholarship had to submit paper applications and could expect to wait five months until receiving notification, despite the necessary information—student biographical and academic data, and specific scholarship criteria—already residing in the school’s Banner database.
After meeting with alumni relations, development, and financial aid officials, Brian Larson, senior web application/database developer, began exploring external solutions. But, he says, the team realized that with their specific needs and the bells and whistles they needed in a system, an internal solution would be best.
So Larson set about designing and programming a new online system to automate the Foundation Scholarship application process. “I developed and coded these rules into the system so that it could identify this scholarship as being, say, only for a history major or this one only for students with a GPA over 3.0,” he explains—adding that a lot of communication between him and other departments was needed so they would be able to correctly code data in the system allowing rules to be directly applied to the students’ attributes within Banner.
Accessed through NMU’s web portal, the new system requires students to do no more than log in to see the scholarships they’re eligible for. Thanks to what Larson refers to as “a boatload of hours of labor,” student academic data is accurately used to determine eligibility automatically. “The new system allows the student to log in and see those scholarships that best match their achievements at the university,” he says. “It also ranks the scholarships in the order of the likelihood of them achieving that scholarship.”
Paper applications are a thing of the past. Students apply through the new system and can easily track the progress of their application. Processing time has dropped by 88 percent, the number of applications has risen by 36 percent, and the number of students applying is up 19 percent.
“It is a very user-friendly way of presenting a complex set of data,” says Felecia Flack, director of information services. “Because of the ease of use to the student, I think that is why we did get so many more applications.”