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Ease administrative hassle with a centralized scholarship management system

AcademicWorks streamlines award application and distribution process at Auburn University
University Business, October 2015
AcademicWorks streamlines award application and distribution process at Auburn University
AcademicWorks streamlines award application and distribution process at Auburn University

Hundreds of scholarships are awarded at the university, college and department levels at Auburn University in Alabama. Prior to spring 2013, there was no central scholarship management process for the institution’s 27,287 students and 13 colleges and schools.

“At the university level, the application for admission also served as the application for scholarships,” says Velda Rooker, Director of University Scholarships at Auburn.

But scholarship applications for individual departments and colleges were designed by those giving out the awards. Not only did these applications all look different, but had different deadline dates and asked different questions. Current students switching majors would often lose out on scholarship opportunities if they transferred to a different college where the deadline had passed.

Without managing scholarship information centrally, multiple awards were often given to the same student because there was limited communication between administrators across campus, says Rooker. “We wanted to be fair and spread the awards out as much as possible.”

The answer to tackling those problems was AcademicWorks, which is a cloud-based scholarship management solution that allows college and university leaders to keep track of funds and award recipients in a transparent way. The application process is easy, as students complete one streamlined application process for all scholarships.

“We had developed an internal wish list, and AcademicWorks was the only solution that was truly comprehensive and could meet all of our goals and needs,” says Rooker.

AcademicWorks was used on a limited basis for institution scholarships in 2013-14 so the Office of University Scholarships staff could become familiar with the software. Starting with fall 2014, use of the system was mandated across campus. Some leaders at the college level expressed anxiety about the loss of control, so a survey was deployed to collect information on each school’s application, awarding process and philosophy. Meetings were scheduled to discuss survey results with the respondents. AcademicWorks was flexible enough to handle the different requirements of each college, allowing them to collect the necessary information from applicants without requiring students to complete separate applications.

AcademicWorks also imported relevant information from the campus’ student records system on a nightly basis. If students changed their major, they did not have to complete a new scholarship application and were automatically qualified for scholarships in their new major.

For training scholarship administrators and committee members, AcademicWorks provided Auburn with a variety of suggestions and resources, which enabled them to develop videos and step-by-step instructions with corresponding screenshots, says Rooker.

The University Scholarships staff implemented a very comprehensive communications plan to get the word out about the new process. “We knew this would be a culture change for our students,” she says. “It was important to brand the system in a way that encompassed all its capabilities and functionality.”

Auburn University Scholarship Opportunity Manager, or AUSOM, was selected as the name and was plastered on letters and postcards to incoming students, on promotional flyers, in an ad in the student newspaper, on screensavers on campus computers and TVs, and in many other places. The goal was to make sure all Auburn students knew about the new system.

During the first year, 13,000 applicants used AUSOM. For 2015- 16, that number jumped to 14,500. Within minutes of sending award notifications via email, hundreds of acceptance responses came in through AcademicWorks, says Rooker.

“We are able to award much faster and more accurately, and are more conscientious in the distribution of scholarships,” she says.

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