The Graduate and Professional unit in the Office of Student Finance (OSF) is involved with the financial aid packaging and record adjustments of most graduate and professional students, and even some undergraduate students.
"We work on a yearly cycle since graduate and professional programs admit students year round. But there is always a new challenge," said Liz Holm, manager of the unit. "There are only four of us and we are all involved with different programs."
The unit of four works with all professional and graduate careers, except the Medical School. They also work with undergraduate students in the nursing, dental hygiene, dental therapy, and Evans Scholar programs. They have divided this large workload among the four staff members.
Liz works primarily with students in the health professions programs, including dentistry, dental therapy, pharmacy, occupational therapy, and nursing. Mark Larson works with veterinary medicine and Carlson (MBA) students. Jim Parker works with law students and joint degree programs. And Brian Olson works with all students in the master of education programs.
Their busiest time is between April and October, especially when new tuition and fee budgets come out in June for the upcoming aid year. The next process the team is working on is the May/summer aid packaging, which starts in April.
"We work start to finish with the financial aid process every aid year," Mark said. "We make sure the budgets are set up with the correct program and that the students are packaged with their correct aid."
Although most of their work is done automatically through PeopleSoft, they also complete some of their work manually. An example is the several reports and queries processed daily by Brian to be sure the student's financial aid record is in compliance with federal regulations. Brian also reviews the Cost of Attendance appeals from students who may have allowable expenses that are higher than what is in the standard budget.
Jim and Mark also run numerous queries to catch other issues requiring human intervention, such as one term or joint degree students who need manual packaging, or students who were assigned to an incorrect budget.
"You sometimes have to be a detective to figure out what the issue is with these students' financial aid package," Jim said. "Joint degree students are active in two different graduate programs. The system is not capable of determining which budget to assign or which program the student is pursuing during a particular semester or year, so it's my job to figure that out."
The borrower-based programs - dental, pharmacy, and veterinary medicine students - are packaged just once a year in batch. Students who submit a FAFSA after the initial round of packaging in July are identified by query and are then packaged manually. The general graduate populations are packaged automatically twice weekly in batch.
In addition to all this, the team responds to emails and phone calls from departments, colleges, and students. They answer about 800 emails a year.
"We receive a lot of phone calls, especially from prospective students and new admits," Jim said. "They have a lot of questions and concerns about finances for their program and have questions about loan repayment. We do a lot of individual counseling."
The unit also provides new student orientations during late summer for about ten different programs. Some programs can be complicated, such as the health professional and education programs, and the orientation is helpful for students to understand their financial aid options.
The team agrees that the most challenging aspects of their job is managing the volume and keeping up with changes to federal regulations or policies. But all of this can be overlooked with the satisfaction that comes from helping students.
"It's amazing the number of students who thank us for our help," Mark said. "The students we work with are great."
Graduate and Professional Unit
Liz Holm, manager
Jim Parker, financial aid counselor
Mark Larson, financial aid counselor
Brian Olson, financial aid counselor