Response to “Financial Aid Office is Understaffed and Inefficient”

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Thank you for your honest words and relaying your experiences at the Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships. I agree with many of your assessments and frustration with the long lines and the challenge of reaching our office on the phone. These are some steps that our office is already making to continue to absorb the growth of the University and provide better service to our students.

We are working with the University to enhance our phone system to allow more callers. Once you are in our system, the phone system allows students to choose a “call-back” wherefore you may hang up and it saves your place. When your call comes up, our office calls you back. We hope this provides you the option to call us for assistance but not be burdened with waiting on hold.

Leadership within the Student Affairs Department approved recommended additions to full time staff within the Advising and Counseling area of my department. We are working diligently to bring on additional staff to better serve the growing enrollment. This will provide more assistance to the front lobby and lessen the time students may wait in line or waiting for a callback. We are appreciative that Student Affairs understands the importance of serving our students at the highest level.

We are encouraged that with increased staffing and an enhanced phone system that we will reduce the amount of time students will wait in line or on the phone. However, your concern also indicated that you should not have had to be in line in the first place. Nothing would please me more than to have more students complete the financial aid process early. Here are some changes and tips for the 2017-18 academic year that I believe supports our collective efforts.

The 2017-18 FAFSA opened October 1 and is available to complete now. We are encouraging all continuing students to complete the FAFSA now to get an early start on the application process. More good news — the income information used to complete your 2017-18 FAFSA/DREAM Application will be based on tax year 2015, not 2016, so you should already have everything you need to complete your application. If you are a FAFSA filer, we highly recommend using the Data Retrieval Tool when completing your application because it will speed the processing of your financial aid.

The deadline will be May 1 to turn in all 2017-18 documents. Students who turn in their paperwork earlier typically are processed earlier so please consider submitting paperwork when we first request. While my staff works tirelessly all summer to process aid, with 80 percent of our undergraduates on some form of aid, I’m sure you can understand the volume of documents that must be reviewed to support the fee deadlines. With that in mind, we can better support completion of your aid with early submission. Since your renewal FAFSA will report the same tax year as 16-17, we hope that this provides a more expedited process for our continuing students.

I hope I’ve addressed the concerns and provided some solutions we have in place as well as some tips for our student body that might assist them in the application process. At some level, lines are inevitable as some students may have last minute changes to aid. Our office is available to serve the needs of our students. However, it is the desire of the entire Student Affairs Division to reduce the lines and wait time significantly. I will continue to look for ways to build efficiencies and add staff appropriately. I believe if we work together, we can work towards a better student experience.

Rebecca Sanchez is the Director of Financial Aid and Scholarships. She can be reached at rebecls1@uci.edu.

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