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Enrollment update: Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships

Analysis results are in, and changes are coming to the office that helps connect students with financial resources. Here’s what you need to know.

By Cory Phare

September 29, 2021


Metropolitan State University of Denver students rely on financial aid to get to and through their higher-education experience, and the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships is at the center of providing seamless customer service.

“We must be best-in-class for helping our students connect with the right resources that make our affordable educational opportunities accessible to them,” said MSU Denver President Janine Davidson, Ph.D.

At the start of the fall 2020 semester, Davidson tasked Mary Sauceda, Ed.D., associate vice president for Enrollment Management, and Chief Information Officer Kevin Taylor to address the challenges voiced by students during high-traffic periods. The Financial Aid Peak Time Enhancement committee was formed, with one of the recommendations being to hire an outside consultant to review operational structures in the office.

CampusWorks was hired and conducted a thorough review, including evaluating internal processes and meeting with Financial Aid staff and external stakeholders across campus. This included students and staff members from University Advancement, the Bursar’s Office and other functional areas. Sauceda described the findings of the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships reported by CampusWorks this past summer as “alarming.”

“We found that not only is the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships working with antiquated processes and systems,” she said, “but because of a culmination of resignations starting even before the pandemic, individual staff (members) have been doing the work of multiple roles with positions lacking clear boundaries.”

Additionally, processes such as reviewing student files are largely manual, with no workflow technology in place or automation.

Davidson, along with Will Simpkins, vice president for Student Affairs, is invested in ensuring that the office becomes a national model of what a financial-aid office can be.

“We know that our students’ ability to finance their educational goals is one of the most important determinants of enrollment, persistence and completion,” Simpkins said. “The federal aid process is already confusing and complex, especially for first-generation students.  We must focus on better communication, proactive financial-aid advising and reducing response times to be the best advocates for our students’ goals as possible.”

Though underlying structural issues may have been years in the making, the University’s goal of expediting process improvement places a new urgency on transforming into a student-centered national model of practice and upscaled industry standards, Sauceda said.

Shannon Sheaff, a change agent with CampusWorks, will start working with MSU Denver in October. Sheaff will focus on improving processes and ensuring a smooth start by the fall 2022 semester as the contract with CampusWorks will run for 12 months. During that period, Sheaff will work closely with the interim executive director of the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships to ensure that intentional communication structures are created and a workflow system is implemented. Also targeted will be setting complicated customized Banner processes to their native states to reduce lengthy and difficult processes.

Optimized organizational structures for role clarity and accountability systems will also be priorities, along with a systems team from CampusWorks assigned to simplifying and removing Banner customizations.

“We are committed to mending the issues in the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships so that students have the best experience when navigating inherently complicated processes of financial aid,” Sauceda said. “This commitment will also help us in achieving President Davidson’s objective of MSU Denver being one of the best places to work.”

Topics: Financial Aid, Student Affairs, Student Success

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