The Burden of Paper-Based Processes
Augsburg College is located in the heart of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. Approximately 3,000 students come from 45 states and foreign countries, and more than 80% of them receive some form of financial aid from the college and other sources. With that many people and that much money involved, you can imagine the amount of paperwork required. One estimate puts it at around 20,000 documents a year, 1/3 of which are returned for correction and resubmitted.
Much of this paperwork is the responsibility of Sue Copus, Office Manager for the Financial Aid Office. It’s up to her and her staff to collect and verify the three basic documents which determine a student’s eligibility for financial aid. Document volume varies with the school year, with the busiest of five peak periods coming in preparation for the new students in the fall.
In the past, finding the needed paper documents could be a major problem at crunch time. However, since the installation of RJS Software’s WebDocsTM, a document and image management package, the problem of “lost” documents has been virtually eliminated and the peaks and valleys of work flow have been evened out considerably. Says Copus, “We’re about six months ahead of where we usually are.”
When Manual Data Collection Doesn't Make the Grade
A student requesting financial aid must submit at least three documents:
- Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), a government form,
- Tax form(s), Verification Worksheet (designed by the Financial Aid Office), and
Special Circumstance Letters, if necessary.
Documents can be mailed, faxed or handed in at the Financial Aid Office. “Sometimes, says Copus, “they hand them to me in the lunch room.” Formerly, they would frequently come in separately, but that situation has improved in the last year as the office has made an effort to clarify precisely what documents are required.
Each day, the mail is sorted to eliminate the NMDs (Not My Documents). Then an operator verifies that the document has been properly filled out and information from it is entered into PowerFAIDS®, a financial aid software package from The College Board. Before WebDocs, the document was then “rough filed” in tubs by the student’s last initial.
In peak periods, there were sometimes six or more of these tubs lining the walls of the Financial Aid Office. The idea was to properly file the documents in individual student files before the final step of creating the Pre-Award New Student Report, which informs Financial Aid Officers which students have successfully completed the paperwork.
Unfortunately, time pressure often forced the staff to work with the rough filed documents. “It could take twenty minutes to find one document,” says Copus. “If they weren’t filed together, that could mean up to an hour just to get the forms together.”
The Benefits of Digital Forms and Document Management
Today, the documents are scanned into WebDocs after the information has been entered into PowerFAIDS. The operator enters the student’s name, Social Security Number and Augsburg Student ID number.
If a document doesn’t meet requirements, it is scanned anyway, and an explanation is typed in the index field labeled “Missing” so that authorized personnel can see what additional information is needed. After scanning, the documents are rough filed as before. The report is created using scanned documents available online, and the final filing is done when there is time available. “Filing used to be essential, but we were always behind. Now we do it last, on a low priority basis,” says Copus.
One obvious benefit of WebDocs is the reduction in labor. The Financial Aid Office used to employ five work study students, two of them filing full time during the summer in preparation for the new fall students. Now three workers are cross trained in all aspects of the financial aid process, each doing some of the filing as needed.
But an even more dramatic benefit can be seen in the final output of the process. “The Pre-Award New Student Report used to come out weekly, and it took a half a day to prepare,” says Sue. “Now it’s done daily, and it takes about ten minutes.” Copus attributes some of the improvement to various process changes that have been instituted recently, as well as excellent work study students, but adds, “We couldn’t have done it without RJS.”
Director of Enrollment Services Julie Olson sees the benefits of WebDocs from the other end – that of the people accessing the scanned documents. “Student inquiries about the status of their financial aid were a huge drain on the time of our enrollment counselors,” she says. “Now they can quickly access the student’s file to see what is missing, and let the student know what has to be done to get back on track. We used to be swamped during the summer, preparing for the coming school year. This year, in spite of a record freshman class, we have had no need for additional staff, and we’ve even had a little time for strategic planning. It’s been wonderful.”
Going Digital Campus-Wide
Although WebDocs was originally purchased for use at the Financial Aid Office, other departments at the college quickly saw the possibilities of working with scanned documents, and the following departments are in various stages of implementing a similar system:
Student Accounts (Payment Policy Disclosure and Company Reimbursement forms)
Business Office (purchase orders)
Documents at the Financial Aid Office are scanned at a single workstation, which is in use between one and four hours a day depending on document volume. The documents are then available on-line, using any standard Web browser, to authorized personnel such as Financial Aid Officers.
Says System Support Analyst Avis Benson, “I have known RJS software since they introduced their first product in 1998, and we have tested almost all their products for the AS/400. It’s been a great relationship. Any time there is a problem, their Tech Support stays on it until it is solved.”