Streamlining the awarding and processing of student loans—Federal Perkins as well as institutional loans—began at the Illinois Institute of Technology with a simple question and a frustrating answer.
“It started because I asked, ‘What is the process?’” recalls Jackie Anderson, associate director of student accounting. “No one really knew.”
So Anderson rolled up her sleeves and dove in. Examining the entire process, front to back, allowed her to identify its inefficiencies—the first step toward fixing what had become a cumbersome set of tasks.
For example, when the school or the government offered a loan to a student, the offer was communicated not instantly through an automated alert but via email from a campus staffer. Data related to the loan had to be manually entered and sent to the institution’s loan servicer, Heartland Campus Solutions ECSI, which then sent back master promissory notes. The staffer then had to enter the promissory notes manually into the student accounting system.
“When I wrote down the amount of time it was taking her to process those files alone, it was mind-boggling,” says Anderson,
The school’s solution, developed in-house by the controller’s office’s technical services team in collaboration with ECSI, was to automate as many of the manual processes as possible.
Now, when a loan is offered, it is communicated instantly. Data is compiled and delivered to and from ECSI automatically through file transfer protocol. And when promissory notes are received, ECSI is able to automatically update IIT’s student loan requirements.
“Students are able to receive the initial offer for the loan within a matter of hours of the process running overnight,” Anderson says. “Before, it would happen whenever a staff member would get around to sending a notification to students.”
Now, once financial aid staff are notified of a loan offer decision, they can add it to their list of financial aid awards, which triggers the email notification to the student.
A process that used to take hours to prepare is now accomplished in practically the blink of an eye: just two minutes to transfer new institutional loan files to ECSI, three minutes to transfer the loan itself from ECSI and four minutes to download completed master promisory note files, says Anderson. Manually performing the same function for 10 students a week would take more than four-and-a-half hours, she says.
The key to the project’s success was taking the time to understand as much as possible about existing processes before determining how best to improve them, she says.
“A lot of us waste a lot of time figuring out how to fix something but don’t go through the entire process from start to finish to be able to identify where those inefficiencies lie in order to fix them,” Anderson says. “With this project I was able to design a way of looking at an upcoming project to say, from start to finish, what are we doing now, review it, and see how can we do better.”