September 9, 2008

PeopleSoft Hinders Review of Aid Applications

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12 days after classes started, about 750 students’ financial aid applications are still being processed due to complications from the implementation of PeopleSoft. PeopleSoft replaced JustTheFacts software and now manages students’ personal, academic, bursar and financial aid information.
“PeopleSoft is certainly the major factor in the delay,” Doris Davis, associate provost for admissions and enrollment, stated in an email. She cited late student applications as another cause.
“We want to encourage students who are in urgent situations to come to the Office of Financial Aid and speak to a financial aid counselor,” she added.
All financial aid applications will be processed by the end of September, according to Davis. The OFA received approximately 8,000 undergraduate financial aid applications, and was able to process all freshmen and transfers applications on time. The 750 students currently awaiting financial aid are returning students.
Due to the delays, some students were unable to pay their bursar bills.
“I still owe Cornell about $17,000, but the Bursar says it is totally fine,” said Esther Kwan ’11. She is not required to pay the bill until her financial aid is posted.
Davis explained that several new processes in PeopleSoft increase the amount of time needed to review a financial aid application.
“The PeopleSoft system is much more labor-intensive than our previous financial system,” stated Davis. “We estimate that it takes three to four times longer to review and process a financial aid application in PeopleSoft than it did in our former financial aid system.”
In one of the processes, for example, the OFA needs 24 to 48 hours to compare data results from two forms. With the former system, the OFA was only required to conduct this comparison for students who are of low-income. With PeopleSoft, OFA now has to compare the data of all 8,000 applicants, and each application now demands more time for a full review.
Usually students receive aid months before coming back to Cornell.
The delays seem to have caused more anxiety for parents than for students.
“My aid came a lot later than last year. [It caused anxiety] mostly for my parents, because they are not sure if we can still afford the tuition and if I have to work-study,” said Christine Erie ’11, who received her aid not long before she returned to Ithaca in late August.
“My dad was kind of anxious and worried that my application did not get accepted. We called during summer, and Cornell told us that they were processing a lot of aid and would appreciate our patience. I am personally okay with that and I am not that worried,” said Kwan.
PeopleSoft was only made available to students last semester, but the development and implementation for financial aid actually began two years ago. Davis claimed that “many tests” and “extensive training with the financial aid staff” were conducted.
“We already have extensive cooperation with admissions, registrar and the bursar’s office, and we expect that cooperation to continue,” she stated.
“Since this is our first year in the PeopleSoft system, we expect to identify efficiencies that can be implemented for next year. We also expect to hire additional staff,” she added.
Financial aid delays caused by PeopleSoft have not only occurred at Cornell, but also at several other institutes. Back in the late 1990s, the system caused financial aid delays at Cleveland State University and University of Minnesota. More recently, in 2007, the system brought about aid delays at the University of Houston.
In 1999, eight of the Big Ten universities, including the Universities of Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa, Indiana, Wisconsin-Madison and Ohio State sent a complaint letter to PeopleSoft’s then-CEO Craig Conway, expressing their dissatisfaction with PeopleSoft’s “simply unacceptable” performance.