August 31, 2012 in City

WSU wrestles with aid backlog

University offers loans after software glitch
By The Spokesman-Review
 

Washington State University officials are still working to clean up a financial aid mess partially caused by the implementation of new, multimillion-dollar software.

The problem surfaced the first day of school, Aug. 20, and prevented thousands of students from getting their financial aid. The software problem was fixed the next day, said university spokesman Darin Watkins, but by then they were already behind.

Ten days into school, some students are still waiting.

“It’s like a superhighway,” Watkins said. “Even though you cleared the accident up on the side of the road, there’s still backup on the freeway for miles, and that’s what we’re facing right now. We’re still trying to untangle all the backup from the financial aid that was supposed to have been processed by the first day.”

So far, financial aid totaling $77 million has been distributed to about 12,500 of the 14,000 who are supposed to get it, he said, adding it’s not unusual to have students sorting out financial aid issues into October for a variety of reasons.

In the meantime, Watkins said, the school offered short-term loans up to $2,000 with interest waived. WSU staff have also been calling and writing letters to landlords about individual students who can’t pay rent immediately but do have money coming. They also set up a phone bank to deal with the high volume of calls without pulling financial aid employees away from their posts.

The new software, Zzusis, uses Oracle software as its infrastructure, which is then customized for WSU. Watkins said Oracle consultants visited WSU after the financial aid fiasco. Oracle declined to comment.

“They’re looking at the systems to see if there are any suggestions or changes so we can make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Watkins said, adding WSU did not have to pay the consultants in addition to the $15 million the software cost to begin with. “They came in on their own volition. They’ve got a vested interest in this as much as we do.”

The financial aid problems weren’t the only ones to arise since the Zzusis switch.

Some students weren’t recognized in the system. Some students were classified as out of state when they were supposed to be charged an in-state rate. Some transfer students’ credits weren’t transferred to the new system, and they were unenrolled from classes.

But Watkins said only a handful of students were affected by such problems, and those have been dealt with.

“The academic process still is moving smoothly,” he said. “They’re still going to class, they’re still paying their bills, they can still eat and they can still pay their rent. Because of this glitch, we’ve ended up having to put extra steps in the way for students to complete what they need to, added extra stress in the front of their school year. And for that – it’s very unfortunate – we’re sorry.”


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