Creative Solutions to Demystify the Financial Aid Process
How can a college provide information to 55,000+ students applying for financial aid and define the process, requirements, and individual status for each financial aid student? How can self-service opportunities become transparent for financial aid students? Portland Community College has been tackling these questions for years and recently developed new portal and web features to help students understand the financial aid process.
Due to the complexity of financial aid, students have struggled to understand where they are in the process and what to do next. Demystifying the process became increasingly important as PCC implemented a new Deletion for Non-Payment policy that now requires financial aid to be authorized two weeks before the start of a term.
Through PCC’s new Financial Aid Dashboard, students now have improved access and understanding, through dynamic messaging, status icons, fillable online forms, and an online Student’s Guide to Money. By expanding online self-service features, the new FA dashboard serves as a one-stop guide to assist students in understanding their responsibilities during financial aid processing.
Before the Dashboard
Before the dashboard, the only way for a student to figure out their financial aid status was to call or visit an office. For students, there was no way to tell if things were going well or not, or where they were in the application process. In the words of one student, "I turned in the FAFSA, and then I just sat there, going... well, what happens next?" Worried students called or came in, leading to long lines on campus, long wait times at call centers, and stress on staff and students alike.
Development and Launch
To decrease strain on call centers and improve the student experience, we set out to develop a visual summary of a student's status in the financial aid process. The effort involved staff from Financial Aid, Student Services, Enrollment Services, Banner Development, and Technology Services. In addition, dozens of student feedback sessions provided insight and guidance. The interface went through many iterations as tackled the tremendous task of simplifying the financial aid process into intuitive, simple steps.
After release, we encouraged students to leave voluntary feedback as they used their new dashboards. The results have been overwhelmingly positive:
Love it! Works great, easy to use & understand. It helped me understand several of the new changes made to financial aid. I was unable to find this information before. Great Job! Christina
I love it! It helps so much as a student to have a window into the financial aid process and your progress in the process. Thank you. Jennifer
I think that its a great tool and so much easier to see what needs to be done. I am in Financial Aid Warning and I was able to look up what it meant and make sure that I don't fall below or fail any classes. Anthony
Using in the Dashboard
Each tab represents a step in the financial aid process. When a student logs in to the student portal, their dashboard will automatically show the tab that represents their place in the application process. The tab icon updates dynamically and hints to the action that is required, and the same icons are used across the financial aid website, providing recognizable signposts to help students navigate the process. The content of each tab gives customized instructions and links to actions items, such as online forms and entrance counseling.
- FAFSA Tab
- Lets students know if we have received their FAFSA. If we don't have any FAFSA information for that student, we link them to resources to get started and let them know which FAFSAs we are working on right now.
- PCC Requirements Tab
- The Requirements Tab lets students know when we need additional documentation to complete their financial aid application.
- Award Tab
- Alerts students when their award is ready and tells them how to accept it, in addition to linking to resources for considering long term financial needs.
- Notification Tab
- Tells students if they are in good financial aid standing, or if they need to take steps to maintain their eligibility.
- Planning Ahead Tab
- Provides resources for maintaining aid eligibility, managing dept, and finding more ways to get help paying for college.