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Financial Aid Office debuts new reception area; serves 1,000s in August

September 9, 2003

Though it doesn't quite rival McDonald's claim of "millions" served, the Office of Financial Aid boasts some pretty strong numbers: 4,795 students served in the month of August.

"There were actually more than that," says Donna Price, interim director. "That's just the one's who signed in."
September 9, 2003

Though it doesn't quite rival McDonald's claim of "millions" served, the Office of Financial Aid boasts some pretty strong numbers: 4,795 students served in the month of August.

"There were actually more than that," says Donna Price, interim director. "That's just the one's who signed in."

Fortunately, the financial aid reception area, located on the second floor of Ellington, was relocated and vastly expanded over the summer. It's a huge improvement, Price says. "The previous reception area was too small. We'd have lines out the door and down the hall."

The new reception area not only has more than twice the seating but also an attractive counter where staff can assist students. No phone inquiries are handled here. Telephones are answered by staff in what used to be the reception area. It's a small change that's made a big difference in the department's ability to serve, Price says. "We're not trying to serve students by phone and in person at the same time."

The wisdom of separating the two functions becomes even clearer when you consider that in August, 4,800 calls for the Office of Financial Aid came through the main phone lines alone. "That doesn't include calls that came directly to individual lines in financial aid," Price says.

The number isn't surprising, given the high percentage of students relying on financial aid to attend Austin Peay. "About 48 percent of our students are on some type of need-based aid," Price says. "If you factor in people getting loans or scholarships, the number would be considerably higher, as much as 70 percent." This percentage may increase significantly in the coming year, once the role and responsibilities related to lottery scholarships are defined, she adds.

Handling phones and loans are just two things that keep the 14-member financial aid staff hopping. Counselors work one-on-one with students, answering their questions about financial aid, advising them on how to get started and helping fill out the paperwork required. Financial Aid assistants verify the accuracy of data submitted on applications and process loans. An accountant is responsible for submitting federal reports and for quality assurance.

A financial aid clerk and secretary also fill important roles in the department. The financial aid clerk is the anchorperson for directing phone calls from the main lines. In addition to the normal secretarial duties, the secretary handles all paperwork and assignments for general campus and federal work-study students.

In addition to its financial aid responsibilities, the Financial Aid Office staff also are charged with serving veterans. "The requirements are rigid and governed by federal regulations," Price says. "We have two counselors primarily dedicated to our veteran population."

Even student workers play a role. "They handle clerical tasks and even walk students from the reception area to various offices," Price says. "They keep the flow going."

Though she's a newcomer to the Financial Aid Office, Price is intimately familiar with the role of student aid in enrollment. Before she was asked to serve in her current role, she was associate director of admissions. She misses her former colleagues but expresses nothing but admiration for her new ones.

"I was so proud of the staff and how they handled the large number of students in a professional manner," Price says. "They worked 10-hour days for three weeks in a row. They're very dedicated."

Price says the biggest challenge of the job is continuing to think creatively about how to increase efficiency. "Sometimes you keep doing what you're doing, because it's what you've always done," Price says. "But we have to think outside the box. Can we get this information to students on the Web? Or in some other way? If there's a portion of students who can get the information another way, we need to be prepared to do that."