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Accounting services: the bucks stopand starthere

February 18, 2003

Last month, "InnerAction" began profiling the departments and administrative offices on the Austin Peay campus, with the goal of enhanced understanding about the role various groups play in fulfilling the mission of the University.

This month's profile takes a peek into a key department of the University: Accounting Services. Located on the main floor of Browning, on both sides of the hallway behind the telephone receptionist, Accounting Services is part of Austin Peay's Business Office and falls under the larger umbrella of Finance and Administration. February 18, 2003

Last month, "InnerAction" began profiling the departments and administrative offices on the Austin Peay campus, with the goal of enhanced understanding about the role various groups play in fulfilling the mission of the University.

This month's profile takes a peek into a key department of the University: Accounting Services. Located on the main floor of Browning, on both sides of the hallway behind the telephone receptionist, Accounting Services is part of Austin Peay's Business Office and falls under the larger umbrella of Finance and Administration.

The spokesperson whose answers are quoted here is Phyllis Whittaker, director, and a 33-year veteran of the University.

What is the role of accounting services, and how many people work here?

We have 18 people in six different areas: accounts receivable, accounts payable, the cashiers, grants accounting, scholarship and foundation accounting, and Perkins loans (a federal program giving students low interest loans for college).

We prepare the financial reports for the University, pay the University's bills, prepare and disburse checks for students and place charges on their accounts. We also disburse and collect Perkins loans.

Accounts receivable handles student accounts. They record charges and credits to student and staff accounts, answer questions and send out billings to students for tuition, traffic fines, Miller and SGA loans, telephone, health service charges and rent. They also bill third-party contractors who pay student fees (i.e., Army, Veterans Administration, Vocational Rehabilitation) and approve preparation of refund and balance checks.

Accounts payable processes all invoices for University purchases and contracts, prepares vendor checks for mailing, maintains reports and files of payments, processes travel claims and signs all checks (including payroll). The duties of one staff member include data-entry recording of internal and external charges/credits that do not require checks.

The cashiers give checks to students, including balance, refund and student payroll checks. They accept student payments for tuition, telephone services, health services, traffic fines, child care, rent and loan payments and answer questions and provide information to students.

Grants accounting oversees grant money for University efforts, such as the TRIO programs. The grants accountant performs accounting duties and prepares financial reports for grants to the University as well as Stipulation of Settlement, Centers of Excellence and TBR capital project accounts.

Two accounting services staff handle Perkins loans, including billings and collections. They also conduct entrance and exit conferences with students.

The Scholarship/Foundation accountant performs accounting and reporting functions for private scholarships, APSU Foundation and information technology accounts.

If we were to drop into this office on a typical day, what might we see?

Everywhere you look, you'd see stacks of papersome being processed and some being stored as backup documentation. For each vendor check produced, we have an invoice, a receiving report, a purchase order and a copy of the check. For students, we have tuition assistance, payroll deduction, fee waivers and discount, deferment and scholarship forms. These are only a few of the papers that we have, and many must be retained at least seven years and sometimes longer.

You would see students talking with the cashiers, accounts receivable staff or secretaries about their accounts, as well as paying charges or picking up forms or checks.

Many of the staff would be on the phones, talking with students, staff, faculty or vendors, answering inquiries about accounts and seeking information to process payments.

What would people find most surprising if they could work here awhile?

Many people would be surprised to see the large number of processes that are not automated. We still do a lot of the work manually because we need signaturessometimes more than one.

They may assume we have more staff than we do. We have only three full-time people in accounts receivable. That's not a lot for the number of students we have.

What's the most important skill for someone working here?

Math skills are important, but being a people person is important too. We deal with people all day, on the phone and in person. You need to be even-tempered and pleasant to work with.

What's the biggest challenge facing your department?

Getting the work done with limited resources. At peak periods, there just aren't enough bodies or time to get things done when people expect. Everybody in the office pitches in, but it's still hard. If the work were spread over a longer period of time, it would be more manageable. But we are taking tuition payments from on-campus and Fort Campbell Center students, processing paperwork related to fee waivers, discounts, scholarships and deferments, and preparing balance/refund checks at the same time students are calling or stopping by to inquire about their accounts. Meanwhile, the work of paying vendors and preparing needed financial reports must continue.

What's the best thing about working in this department?

We all enjoy working with the students. Most of us like working with numberssome more than others. Finding the correct answer can be like solving a puzzle; sometimes you feel like a detective. When everything balances, it's a beautiful thing.