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More hires reduce stress for staff and students

At the end of March, the financial aid and student accounts offices became fully staffed, ending a staff shortage that had existed for the past four years.

The staff shortage was most severe over the past summer, when the financial aid department was short three people and the student accounts department was short one, according to executive director of student financial services Janet Long.

Part of the reason for the extended staff shortage was that Eastern’s financial aid workers tend to be valuable to other schools, who hire them away from Eastern, said Long and director of financial aid Anna Reese.

Eastern workers are valuable to other schools because Eastern cross-trains its staff in different areas of financial aid, a training most financial aid workers lack, according to Long and Reese.

The severe shortage of workers over the summer had negative effects on the way staff were able to respond to student needs.

“We just kept picking up the phone and talking to people, but we just weren’t getting back fast enough, or as fast as they would like us to have,” Long said.

Reese agreed.

“When you’re not fully staffed you don’t feel that you’re meeting students’ needs at certain times,” Resse said.

This was especially the case during August, Long said, when financial aid and student accounts are busiest.

“Who it [the staff shortage] really hurt were people who waited until the last minute,” she said. “When we hit crunch time, it was like we had a term paper due every day.”

Long suggested one way for students to avoid getting left behind this August is to keep track of their financial aid and call early with any problems they have.

“I sit here in May, in June, in July, waiting for people to call early,” she said. “When August hits, I can only deal with emergencies.”

First-year Cassy Powles and her mother Pam Powles discovered the necessity of calling early and frequently in order to solve problems.

On March 3, Cassy was notified that she could not continue with the housing process until an outstanding debt of $2,000 had been paid. Pam said she called financial aid the same day.

She said she discovered that Cassy’s Richard C. Bird scholarship for both last fall and this spring semester, together with her City of Philadelphia scholarship, had not come through.

Although Pam spoke to Long and was assured the problem would be resolved, Cassy was still unable to pay her bill when she went to do so on March 14.

Pam called financial aid again and arranged to have a worker bring Cassy to student accounts in order to clear up the problem and to help Cassy pay her housing deposit.

Pam said she made eight or nine phone calls to financial aid, mostly trying to determine which scholarships had not yet come in so she could call the scholarship companies.

“I was going in-between talking to everybody. They don’t seem to talk to each other,” she said.

Reese admitted that financial aid does not normally talk to scholarship companies, and that they depend upon the students to let financial aid know about any outside scholarships they are receiving.

But Long said she encourages students to come to her or others in financial aid and student accounts with any problems they have.

For Shovaughn Chism, this method has made dealing with financial aid and student accounts a satisfying experience.

When he had difficulty figuring out how much he owed for the fall of 2004, and was receiving mixed messages from the student accounts, he went to Janet Long.

“She told me everything I needed in one sitting,” he said.

She also helped Chism gain a better understanding of student accounts and financial aid.

“She made me understand where they’re coming from so I wouldn’t end up not liking them,” he said. “She helped me walk in their shoes.”

Building this kind of rapport between the financial aid and student accounts departments and students is all part of the job, according to Long.

“Our goal and our desire is for students to understand that they’re people, they matter,” Long said.

With reporting by Kim Loud, staff writer.

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