WCCCD online program makes financial aid information accessible to students

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Courtesy of Michigan Chronicle

Wayne County Community College District, under Chancellor Curtis Ivery, is rolling out the latest of a series of new student service programs precisely where many of its more than 72,000 students look first — their smartphones and other mobile devices.

The new online service will allow current and prospective students, parents, community and staff to find accurate answers to questions about WCCCD or financial aid through an interactive question and answer tool. More expansive than “Frequently Asked Questions” and more targeted than online search tools, the new tool provides specific answers to questions through an extensive video library and smart operating software.

Students simply plug in a question, and software scours video transcripts to find related terms, delivering an exact match to the query within seconds, whether the student is working on a computer or a smartphone. Trying to navigate the federal financial aid system? There’s video for that. Want to know how the campus bookstore operates? There’s one for that too. Even subjects such as financial literacy are covered in the series.

The idea, said WCCCD District Dean of Student Services Mawine Diggs, was to get accurate administrative and financial aid information in the hands of students precisely when they needed it so that they could focus on achieving their goals, instead of paperwork.

“Our goal is to help everyone who comes through our doors create a better life,” Diggs said. “Providing accurate information and the most efficient service possible only helps them, and us, realize that goal.” The new online self-service tool is the latest in a series of student service initiatives the District has rolled out during the past 18 months as student enrollment has increased to nearly 73,000 credit and non-credit students.

The District Financial Aid Department recently launched an initiative to transition into “paperless processing”. The implementation of the Banner Document Management Suite (commonly known as Xtender) allows the department to collect, process, and store financial aid documentation electronically and link it directly to student accounts. “This has provided a more streamlined and efficient financial aid process which ultimately delivers better customer service to our students,” said WCCCD Executive District Director of Financial Aid Tamara Pruitt. Students also have the luxury of submitting their forms online through our website from their laptops, tablets and smart phones, Pruitt said.

The District last year introduced its Student Solutions Team, Financial Aid Hotline. The Student Solutions Team visits each of the District’s five campuses weekly to provide a face-to-face, one-stop option for students to get financial aid and administrative information, as well as help finding that information online. District call centers were expanded to provide fast information on financial aid and things like book vouchers to students who called the District hotline, and information about both was distributed across campuses through a steady stream of emails, newsletters and banners. Additionally, the District has hosted two Financial Aid Marathons this year which have provided students with one-on-one engagement opportunities with District Financial Aid personnel in the completion, submission and processing of financial aid documents.

“The goal is not only to make sure students can access the information they need in ways that are comfortable to them but to also ensure successful guidance through the financial aid process from start to finish,” said WCCCD District Dean of Student Services Mawine Diggs. “Whether they feel more comfortable sitting across the table from an advisor or dialing a hotline number or watching a video on their smartphone – we want to make sure we’re helping them navigate the college experience in ways that help ensure their success.”

Another benefit of the new array of services the District anticipates is lower call volumes to its financial aid and administrative offices, freeing staff to spend more time with students who need extra resources or unique situations. WCCCD is the largest urban community college district in the state with the goal of continuously expanding the reach of its administrators through the use of innovative technologies and person centered approaches. Providing resources to answer basic questions while freeing staff to tend to those students that need more in-depth attention means all of its students will be better served, Diggs said.

“We’ve expanded our student services significantly,” she said, “and we’ve done it in ways that allows every student an outlet at any time of day or night to get the help and information they need.”

The District is providing consistent training for administrators and staff to make sure the new programs integrate smoothly with existing services, and tracking its progress to make sure all services are consistently improving.

“We’re tracking student satisfaction with our overall service periodically to make sure we’re providing the best platforms available to serve their needs,” Diggs said. “We don’t view student service as a fixed target, but something that we will consistently improve upon to make sure everyone who comes through our doors is having the best experience possible.”

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