Context & Accomplishments
Beginning March 2013, Laney College assumed institutional leadership of the Financial Aid Office’s operations and supervision of staff; the college received access to the program budget in February 2014. Prior to this period, our Colleges’ Office of Financial Aid (FA) was under the direct oversight of the Peralta Community College District Office; where our District colleagues administered all human and fiscal services related to Laney’s Office of Financial Aid including its operational policies and implementation of procedures.
Since Spring 2013, the College’s Financial Aid Office has made great strides carrying out significant work activities towards meeting the College’s student success goals (Attachment A:2013-14 Laney College Goals – Final 2 7 14 ).
During this timeframe, this Office experienced (1) staffing challenges that have been partially addressed, (2) historical delays in completing financial aid files due largely to having to complete those files using multiple steps that required manual reviews of each file processed, and (3) the need to address audit findings due to a marked increase in the loan default rate; in 2008-2009 the default rate was 9.6% compared to a loan default rate of 20.5% in 2009-2010.
Staffing Challenges & Improvements
In 2008-2009, the Laney College Financial Aid Office (FAO) had 12 permanent personnel; by spring 2013, the number was 9. Retirements and transfers reduced this number to 5 by August 2013. Since the budget for the Office remained at the District level, the request to advertise for 4 positions could not be processed until Spring 2014. Due to a District level transfer process, the College was able to welcome three financial aid specialists who made specific requests for intra-district transfer to work in the Laney College Office of Financial Aid! As part of accommodating the needs of our sister college, those transfers just occurred in the months of March and April 2014. Please join us in welcoming Natalee Alderman, Maria Aguilar and Susan Liang.
There is a hiring committee being formed to fill the Federal Work Study (FWS) Student Employment Specialist position in the FAO. Once approved by the Chancellor, we will announce the new permanent Financial Aid Office supervisor. Likewise, the District is working to secure a new director of District Financial Aid Services in order to ensure that the policies, procedures and other aspects of the infrastructure of FA district wide is up-to-date and working effectively for all of the colleges.
Historically, the financial aid files were processed manually using more than one computer system and several sets of steps prior to completing one file. Typically, this would necessitate a minimum of 3, and on average up to 5, separate contacts with the Financial Aid Office by a student seeking to secure financial aid. It was not uncommon to take 6 months or more from the time a student applies for financial aid to being notified of a financial aid award if eligible. By the beginning of the Spring 2014 academic semester, this timeframe was reduced significantly to less than 60 days consistent with the goals and FAO file processing benchmark of the College.
As of Thursday, April 17, 2014, for the first time in years, the financial aid staff members have processed NO lines of students waiting to be served in the FAO. In fact, students can be served and their questions answered immediately.
As of the week of April 14, 2014 there were 20 student loans that were in the process of being reviewed by the FAO and a handful of financial aid appeals the were being reviewed.
It is important to note that ongoing collaboration with college faculty submitting their final grades on time is essential to students being able to receive their summer financial aid in a timely fashion because the FAO is required to review satisfactory academic progress (SAP) to ensure that students are maintaining at least a 2.0 GPA in order to continue receiving federal financial aid.
Audit Findings & Report
In Fall 2013, during the week of August 19, 2013, the Laney College Office of Financial Aid was audited because the 2009 Stafford loan cohort default rate was 20.5% compared with a 2008 Stafford loan cohort default rate of 9.6%. This necessitated a program compliance review for the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 academic years (Attachment B: Audit Information). As the attached report reflects, auditors met with the Laney College and Peralta District financial aid leadership teams and reviewed specific documents and activities. The status of the district financial aid files necessitated particular responses in the audit report. The earnest efforts of this joint team, engaged by the supervising dean of the College’s Financial Aid Office, Dr. Mildred Lewis, and facilitated and written primarily by the then District Director of Financial Aid Dave Nguyen, resulted in a set of responses that addressed a few errors in the audit report and revealed the outstanding matters, (Attachment C:Audit Response). These documents and other college level reports are being used to ensure high quality administration of the college and district financial aid operations.
Infrastructure Improvements & Plans
The PeopleSoft financial aid module has been implemented and is currently live for the 2014-2015 FAFSA applications. The new module automatically processes students’ applications and generates a response informing students of next steps for receiving their financial aid.
Summer 2014 is the last semester that the FAO will manually process financial aid applications. This unit anticipates receiving approximately 100 new summer applications and 300-400 continuing students who will receive financial aid. Summer financial aid disbursements will be available on students’ Higher One Card the day before classes begin.
The good news is rather significant as it positively impacts student engagement, learning and success!
The Laney College community extends it deep appreciation to Dave Nguyen, Interim District Financial Aid Director who has demonstrated prodigious leadership and invaluable support to Laney College during this first year and most especially to the Laney College financial aid employees who have worked diligently to advance the FAO and serve our students and community!
We owe our team in the Laney College Financial Aid Office much gratitude for weathering a major storm. They are remarkable individuals who opted to work with an untenable system that they sought to improve. With the aid of many at the college and the district levels, our Laney College students can now reasonably expect to be served effectively and efficiently.
Thank you many other professionals for your advocacy, especially the administrators, faculty and staff who were unrelenting in working behind the scenes to ensure the implementation of new systems and operational practices that led to these improvements. We are forever grateful!