Financial aid office deals with overflow

Alexa Ura

Despite facing a staff shortage and a larger than normal incoming class, the Office of Student Financial Services managed to release more than $196 million in financial aid during the first two weeks of class — an increase of more than $5 million at this time last year.

OSFS director Thomas Melecki said some of the increase in financial aid came from the size of the incoming freshman class, which tends to bring a lot of scholarships with it.

Melecki said the Office of Student Financial Services also worked to process financial aid awards much faster than in previous years.

The majority of financial aid for fall has been released, and the office will continue to release awards throughout the semester.

“We deployed a greater percentage of our staff resources to ‘back office’ operations that resolved problems which, in the past, would have delayed the delivery of financial aid,” Melecki said, referring to situations including changes in financial aid that must be reviewed.

Grants and scholarships make up 39 percent of this year’s financial aid, with loans accounting for the other 61 percent.

Grants increased 4 percent since last year and loans decreased 4 percent.

Federal law prohibits OSFS from releasing financial aid to students until shortly before classes begin.

The office released $140 million Aug. 21 and 22 — the first two days that awards could be applied to tuition and fees this year.

“The best way to serve our students is by making sure they get their money on time,” Melecki said. “We think we have weathered the storm this year.”

The number of phone calls the office received during its peak season, from the day undergraduate fee bills go out on July 24 to Labor Day, totaled 98,711 attempted calls — an 8 percent increase from last year.

Melecki said 73 percent of attempted calls to the office ended with a busy signal while financial aid counselors, dealing with seven vacancies on its 30-member staff, answered 12,053 calls.

The office will be searching for ways to increase phone system capacity in the coming months and is working to fill those vacancies by October, he said.

The office attributes a large percentage of these calls to the University’s large freshman class, Melecki said.

“In our experience, new students and their parents call more frequently because they are not yet as familiar with all of the financial aid and student accounting processes and websites through which they can get information about the release of financial aid and whether it is applied to pay their tuition,” he said.

Esmer Bedia, New Student Services senior coordinator, said a mandatory Bevonomics course, a money management education program, is offered to students during freshman orientation by the Office of Student Financial Services.

The session covers how to maintain a budget and a savings account, but students are also presented with the resources and tools offered by the financial aid office.

Computer science freshman Pragati Prasad said the financial aid process has been overwhelming despite the information she received at the Bevonomics session at orientation.

“I am the oldest child in my family, and my parents are from India so they did not attend college in the U.S.,” Prasad said.

“They are not well-versed in loan language, and we have been learning together.”

The number of students visiting the financial aid office totaled 5,957 — a decrease of 750 from last year’s peak season. Students said the average waiting time in the office last Friday ranged from 30-45 minutes.