The U.S. Department of Education’s requirement that colleges verify the identity of prospective students created an overwhelming amount of work for the Dallas County Community College District (Texas). In 2009-2010, DCCCD educated 87,000 students and processed nearly 60,000 financial aid applications for its seven colleges. Of those applications, 40 percent, or approximately 24,000, were selected for verification. That meant 24,000 students had to print off forms, copy tax returns, complete worksheets, and then fax, mail, or hand in other materials to confirm their identity and the financial details they had provided.
Because of the amount of paperwork, and the fact that more than half of the verification forms were completed incorrectly, financial aid office staff were fighting an uphill battle. Lines of students stretched out the door as staff members met individually with students, answered the constantly-ringing phone, and dealt with compliance issues. Reviewing files manually for verification took six to eight weeks to complete, delaying financial aid awards. Student dissatisfaction was high. “We never had enough manpower to complete the work that had to be done,” admits Sharon Blackman, provost for educational affairs.
In 2010, a review of internal business processes led to the opportunity for change. Recognizing the need for a technology solution, the financial aid office worked with purchasing to find a qualified vendor to partner with. Global Financial Aid
Services, Inc. was selected for its GlobalCORE + File Review product and, in July 2011, began work on implementation at DCCCD. Campus officials selected an off-the-shelf system but made enhancements for their particular needs.
Today, the financial aid process looks nothing like its manual former self. Students can access their financial aid records through an online student portal branded to their institution. In 15 minutes, they can complete an online form, which increases filing accuracy, and click to request IRS documents be forwarded to their college directly. If information entered conflicts with what they previously reported, they are notified in real-time. The entire process is paperless. The compliance review portion of the process was also outsourced, with results compiled and communicated to DCCCD daily.
As a result of these changes, the file review time for students selected for verification has been reduced from eight weeks to five days. More importantly, staff members can now devote themselves to student counseling rather than paperwork review, which allows them to help more first-time students, who typically need more advising. “We were having to spend so much time on the paperwork aspect” when file review was done manually, “and now we can spend more time helping students one-on-one,” says Blackman.