Just a few years ago, students at Fullerton College would have to wait outside financial aid offices for upward of three hours during peak times. Now, thanks to online and mobile services, wait times for financial aid services are only about three minutes.
Greg Ryan, director of financial aid at the California community college, says moving financial aid services online and to mobile devices, with the help of tools from CampusLogic, means Fullerton students can access, complete and submit almost every financial aid form from their mobile device 24/7. It also cut processing times to two or three days.
Ryan says applying for financial aid is also easier and more intuitive for students. For example, using the mobile platform, financial aid forms automatically pull data from the student’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or other forms to reduce the risk of errors. Also, financial aid chatbots respond to students’ questions via text within minutes and send texts reminding students about upcoming deadlines.
These changes are particularly helpful for students from underrepresented backgrounds or those who are the first in their family to attend college, as Karolina Holl, director of financial aid at Utica College, explained in a recent University Business article.
“For these students in particular, the financial aid process can often be daunting and intimidating — but technology can bring greater clarity, transparency and simplicity to the process,” says Holl in the article.
More Data Requires More Security
With so much additional student data stored online, Ryan says data security was a concern. To mitigate this, Fullerton College chose an authentication tool to safeguard its financial data.
“We went with SSO, or single sign-on, where it’s authenticated behind our student portal,” explains Ryan. “So, the student has to log into the student portal first where they see their classes and grades, register for classes and check their financial award, but they also have to click a link to get to the subportal of the verification site [where they access their file].”
Give Staff Time to Adapt to New Tech
While directors may be excited about the positive changes mobile tools can bring to financial aid services, Ryan cautions that they need to give staff time to adapt to the technology.
Fullerton’s staff took advantage of initial vendor training, but Ryan says if he could do it again he would provide continuous training. “You’ll have some that get it right away and are right there with you, some that get it after the first, second training session, some that take a little while longer, and that’s OK.”
He also cautions that these aren’t services you can “just implement and forget.”
“Every time a regulation changes with the government, you’ve got to make sure your software handles that correctly, so that’s become a task in itself behind the scenes,” says Ryan.
But overall Ryan says he, his staff, and most importantly, students are happy with an online approach to financial services.
“We’ve been able to change the process for applying for aid so that it’s not frustrating people to the point where they will walk away from the process and give up,” he says.