As Homer helps admission get students in the door, this new student information system will also help to streamline the often unwieldy process of determining and providing their financial aid. Due to go live later this month, the financial aid module of Homer will have a positive impact on the College’s ability to grant and service aid packages for our students.
“In order to serve our students in the development of their financial aid packages, there will be a number of changes in our internal business practices,” says Jill Moreland, associate director of financial aid and the Homer coordinator. “Our end goal is to be able to respond to students and their families more quickly, and to reduce the amount of paperwork they (and we) have to contend with in order to meet all the federal and state requirements for financial aid.”
For example, in the current system, a student’s online capabilities are limited to viewing the status of his or her file; “they can not update any information,” Moreland states. “Once we determine their FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) eligibility, we send them a letter. Over the longer term, we will be able to notify students online, via a secure link, about their eligibility. Students will be able to accept or reject their aid package without sending a response on paper -- they can use the system to respond, and they can do this anytime. For students accustomed to using the internet whenever it is most convenient for them, the immediate access to the information they want, and the ability to respond to it quickly will be a plus.”
Moreland believes the new system will allow the financial aid office to reach out to students and their families by sending them information more quickly, more consistently, and more clearly. “With a national May 1 deadline for students to make decisions about their college choices and pay a deposit,” she says, “the sooner they receive information about their financial aid, the sooner they have the information they need to make the right decision”
Homer will help the office with financial aid integrity issues. “We want aid to go to the students with the most need,” she says, “and we want to make sure that a student who receives an aid package as a full-time student is indeed a full-time student. Enrollment status might shift, and a part-time student may need an adjustment to their aid package. The current process is manual and takes time. Homer will allow us to do this automatically.
A major goal for Financial Aid is that Homer’s efficiencies will free staff to deal with exceptional cases -- a family with extraordinary medical needs, for example, whose situation falls outside of FAFSA parameters. “Right now we try to help students with extraordinary needs,” says Moreland, “and because Homer will help streamline the regular FAFSA process, we’ll have more time to spend with students who have exceptional circumstances
Finally, for some groups of students navigating the sometimes confusing process of registration, Homer holds additional promise. “A student may have come to the financial aid office for a signature on the appropriate form,” Moreland says, “and then to the bursar, and then to the registrar. We anticipate that Homer will help to reduce a lot of that back and forth for our student.”
Moreland recognizes the fact that students will probably never know how much effort has gone into making the process easier for them. “Students generally only want and need the end product,” she says, “but ultimately we are here for our students. What helps our students helps us.”