Financial Aid Office has yet to process financial aid

Elderdice Hall houses the financial aid department. (Marya Kuratova / McDaniel Free Press).

While the original deadline for paying for the fall semester was July 1, the Financial Aid Office is still processing and awarding financial aid well into the start of the semester, which has prevented many students from knowing—and, consequently, paying—their fall balances.

“Because we are continuously processing payments and working with students and their families, we cannot provide an accurate number [of just how many students still haven’t paid for the fall semester],” Janelle Holmboe, vice president for enrollment, said.

On Aug. 21, Holmboe sent an email to all undergraduate students to address some common financial aid concerns.

Holmboe apologized for the frustrations many students and parents experienced over the summer, citing “a perfect storm of staff departures, regulatory changes, college closures, and significantly more students” responsible for the delays in awarding financial aid.

With many students still unaware of their final tuition balance due, Holmboe explained that the College will not be applying late charges to those students still waiting to pay for the fall semester due to slow processing times.

Holmboe’s email also specified several proposed changes to improve office efficiency in the future. She detailed the Financial Aid Office’s plans for hiring three full-time staff members and auditing the existing software to identify ways technology can help process aid, as well as her plan to implement customer service training for staff to better address student and parent frustrations.

“Because financial aid is such a complex field, it can be very challenging to find people [to hire] with existing financial aid experience, so we also seek professionals with transferable skills,” Holmboe later shared with The Free Press. “In these cases, training typically takes one full year—we want staff new to financial aid to see an entire financial aid cycle before we would consider them trained.”

In regards to changes to existing software, Holmboe explained to The Free Press that the office will be moving to an automated system, as it has previously been manually processing aid and individually keying in student data.

“[The automated system] will make this process more efficient, accurate, and consistent,” Holmboe said. “The College has contracted with Ellucian, the software provider that supports our financial aid module in our student information system, and will be bringing them to campus over the course of this year to implement improvements.”

Ellucian is already scheduled to be on campus the first week of December and the first week of January, she said.

The office’s goal is to finish awarding the pending aid by Nov. 1 to avoid negatively affecting spring registration. While admitting that the office has fallen behind in processing aid, Holmboe also explained that the office is still waiting on “quite a few” students to submit necessary documents.

“Even small oversights (like forgetting a signature, for example) can delay the process,” Holmboe said.

On Sept. 22, Holmboe addressed the student body once more by following up with some updates to her initial email.

She shared that an on-site temporary staff member and a remote temporary staff member with previous financial aid experience have been hired to help process the outstanding financial aid. Hiring for permanent staff members is still ongoing.

“We hope to have some finalists on campus in the coming weeks,” Holmboe said. “When fully staffed, our office will be the largest it has ever been.”

Holmboe also detailed a significant change to the Financial Aid Office’s operating schedule beginning Sept 23. In order to better focus on processing student documents and awarding aid, the office will be closed to walk-in traffic from 8:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. Students will still be able to visit the office with questions between 11 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

Holmboe concluded her email by thanking students for being so understanding throughout this process.

“Despite justifiable frustrations, I have been met time and again with kindness, patience and grace,” she said. “It has been a humbling reminder of the kinds of people who make up our community.”