PSU hires consultants to process financial aid

Swamped with a tremendous backlog of financial aid applications for the 2004-05 school year, PSU has hired an Atlanta, Ga., consulting firm to both help process aid awards and streamline PSU’s Office of Student Financial Aid.

The firm, called Financial Aid Services (FAS), consists entirely of former financial aid administrators and specializes in resolving exactly the kind of bottleneck situation PSU is faced with. Three consultants from FAS are currently working side by side with PSU’s financial aid employees to process through the aid awards, which number somewhere between 7-10,000 from January to July, according to Elaine Robinson, associate director of financial aid. Each award can take anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour to process.

Faced with record numbers of aid requests and a decreased staff, the Office of Student Financial Aid has been struggling to keep up all year, and fall term has proved to be no different.

“We didn’t get out of the gate awarding until the latter part of June, so we were way behind and knew we needed some help,” Robinson said, adding that things are getting “back on track” with the help of FAS.

Cathy Dyck, interim vice president of finance and administration, coordinated the hiring of FAS. “One of the things we’ve been saying for years is we can’t work any harder, we have to work smarter,” she said.

FAS was a good fit for PSU because of the staff’s availability and experience with Banner, the software system the university uses to process financial aid awards, Dyck said. While Dyck was unable to disclose the exact cost of the consulting work, she did say that the university was offered a price below FAS’s usual rates.

“They gave us a really good deal,” she said. “They were able to work with us on lowering their normal pricing structure because of our needs.”

The university also carefully checked the consulting firm’s references, which were very positive according to Dyck. When other colleges were asked to rate the firm’s work on a scale of one to 10, “they were a 9.6 at one place and a 9.8 at another,” she said.

Since 1991, FAS has worked with numerous colleges and universities, from Miami-Dade Community College to Yale University, on issues such as award delivery processing and U.S. Department of Education audits. The firm does much of its work offsite, and may eventually transfer its PSU workload to its Atlanta offices.

Once the backlog of awards is processed at PSU, FAS will turn its attention to streamlining the university’s handling of financial aid requests to try to prevent such situations from arising in the future.

While the firm will analyze PSU’s financial aid staffing and process and “write up a plan of things that need to change,” it is unlikely that there will be any kind of major shake-up in the Office of Student Financial Aid, Dyck said. Currently, the main priority is ensuring that students receive their aid awards in time for fall term.

“The upper administration is doing what is necessary to get students their financial aid for fall,” Dyck said.