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Standing in Line Replaced by Online Service for Financial Clearance

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Technology changes everything.

Once, students who needed to pay their bills before they could start classes had to stand in line for hours waiting their turn to square away their accounts. There were years when Business Services had to move the procedure to the field house or New Hampshire Hall to accommodate the hordes. Volunteers would come from all across campus to help out.

Consider those tales of days gone by. Bills are now settled online and on April 4, the paper process of financial clearance will be retired officially, the occasion marked by a thank-you celebration for all those who have helped with the event throughout the years.

“There was a time when all students had to attend the first day of clearance,” says Judy Muller, director of Business Services. “When we moved to the field house or New Hampshire Hall, they would stand outside in the sun for hours. We had volunteers who would go around delivering water.”

Eventually the process was improved, so that only students still in need of financial clearance were asked to report to the business office in Stoke Hall, where the wait wasn’t nearly as long but still required patience and time.

A check-in area was set up in Stoke’s lounge area, with a maze of cording that funneled students through to employees who manned the four computer terminals. After a quick evaluation, students then needed to go downstairs to Business Services where they waited in line to finish the process.

“On the busiest days, 20 of us would handle about 1,200 students,” Muller says. “Sometimes it would take several hours; sometimes it would take the whole day. As we did more and more on the Web, we got it down so students wouldn’t have to wait more than 15 minutes.”

Students used to be told if they were cleared or not cleared, but they wouldn’t know why until they contacted Business Services.  An online project done in the summer of 2011 created a checklist for students that tells them what they need to do and where or how to do it. For example, if they need to sign a loan, the online information tells them where to do that. If they need to complete entrance counseling before they can get their loan, they learn what they need to do for that.

“If a student has six things to do, those six things will be listed with links to help them resolve the problems,” Muller says. “Now we find a lot of the issues are addressed before they come to campus.”

Another change is the way student refunds are processed. Previously students looking for refunds also had to queue up to get them. That service has moved online as well. Refund checks that used to take seven to 10 days to receive are now available in three to four.

What’s more, students can make their refund requests through Blackboard and have them directly deposited into their bank accounts, or they can contact Business Services to pick them up.

“We were kind of afraid to stop having volunteers but this fall, we didn’t need them. With students managing their accounts online, we saw a dramatic difference,” Muller says. “It’s made a big difference here, too. There’s been less student traffic and fewer phone calls, freeing up employees to help students with other needs.”

The ‘retirement party’ will take place April 4 from 3:30 to 5 p.m., fittingly in the same first floor lounge in Stoke Hall where students used to wait in line.