Managing personal finance is difficult enough for working professionals. For college students, it can be almost impossible.
Part of the reason is that there are multiple finance-related aspects to higher education, and they have different, often confusing languages, says Nedi Goga, executive director of student financial services and compliance at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.
“Financial aid speaks in terms such as offered, awarded, approved and posted, which is money that’s anticipated but not actually received,” he says. “The bursar wants to talk about money in the bank already. That’s what the discrepancy [often] is. The language is different from the students’, where they have to bring those together and try to make sense of them.”
And in Pratt’s case, financial departments were so siloed that students found themselves bouncing back and forth in an effort to determine the status of their bills, financial aid and other financial matters. Goga called it “shuttle diplomacy.”
Streamlining that process involved two steps. The first was eliminating back-and-forth inquiries and giving students a single point of contact on financial issues. The second was using technology to target information to students and give them self-service tools to be used at their convenience.
“A holistic approach to managing money and financial planning is what I think has come out of this,” Goga says. “Students and parents sit down and talk with one person about every single aspect of their student finances.”
Pratt didn’t have to buy new technology, just make better use of what it already had. Goga’s team and IT staff developed the self-service tools and added them to the portal students use to access coursework and communicate with instructors, among other tasks. Information such as account status and loan processing documentation is now available at any time of day and from any location.
The benefits were considerable and wide-ranging. Student visits to Goga’s department dropped by 60 percent, and wait times plummeted from an average of 45 minutes to just seven. Financial aid refund delivery time was halved.
Students are reporting greater customer satisfaction levels, and complaints are down. The school’s retention rate jumped by three percentage points in just one year. Perhaps the only downside is that staff size was reduced from 30 to 17, though that saved Pratt half a million dollars.
“We don’t want to be one-stop,” Goga says. “We want to be nonstop. That’s the key. Whether submitting forms, uploading documents, requesting loans, getting refunds or making payments, students and parents can perform and track all their transactions using self-service tools available on their portal. It’s the Amazon service model with the guidance of a personal financial advisor.”