Changes to federal aid processing will impact students

Merging functions from several legacy computer systems, coupled with Workday's capacity to automate some processes, will mean better service to students and less staff time spent monitoring records when the third Workday Student rollout goes live on March 4. Several changes to federal financial aid processing help illustrate this.

More accurate tracking of academic progress for aid eligibility

The U.S. Department of Education sets minimum enrolled credit requirements for federal financial aid eligibility: Starting fall semester, those rise a half-credit each, to 12 credits for a full-time student, six credits for a half-time student, all in coursework that applies to their degree program (based on the curriculum set by that program's faculty). Full-time status is required to receive the maximum federal Pell grant ($7,395); half-time status is required to qualify for the federal Direct Loan or Parent PLUS Loan. State aid programs have similar criteria set by the Iowa College Student Aid Commission.

At class registration time this spring, academic advisors and faculty with advising roles will remind students about the new minimums to ensure students who rely on federal or state financial aid are properly enrolled. From there, Workday can monitor students' aid eligibility status as they drop or swap classes through the 10th day of the semester, when financial aid is locked in for the rest of the term. Students who drop below the required minimum before then will receive a notification in their Workday portal, with a request to contact the office of student financial aid.

Having student financial aid data and the degree audit process in two legacy systems previously made it difficult to routinely monitor student progress and aid eligibility.

Director of student financial aid Chad Olson said the change helps everyone.

"Our hope is that we'll gain more efficiencies across the board and be able to focus our attention on customer service for our students," he said. "This also allows us to more easily maintain compliance with federal regulations."

Financial aid staff will work with students and their academic advisors to tweak academic plans that maintain students' eligibility for federal aid when that's the top priority.

Olson said beginning around June 1 for fall semester and Nov. 1 for spring semester, Workday will conduct a nightly evaluation of students' registration status for updates in real time.

He clarified the minimum enrollment requirements apply only to federal and state aid programs, not university or private aid.

Undeclared option for first-year graduate students

The automated financial aid notification is built to serve large groups of students, but Workday software also can serve much smaller subsets, too -- such as a cohort within first-year graduate students.

Workday Student offers the capability to distinguish between nondegree status and undeclared status among graduate students. While it's useful to faculty to see the distinction on a class list, the difference also is monetary.

Previously, nondegree and undeclared graduate students shared the "undeclared" category. The first covers students who take courses for their own interest or development with no intent of completing a degree; the latter indicates those who intend to complete a degree but aren't yet admitted to a specific graduate program. Perhaps they need to complete prerequisites or want to take courses to bolster their application to a degree program. Students can remain in the undeclared graduate status for one academic year.

Nondeclared graduate students are eligible to earn federal financial aid during that year -- primarily unsubsidized loans. Students in nondegree status aren't eligible for federal aid and, according to ISU's Graduate Handbook, neither may they receive assistantships.

"In looking for ways to strengthen the student experience, this was an obvious win we learned we could do," said Natalie Robinson, assistant director for student services in the Graduate College. "There are a lot more nuances available in Workday Student."

Graduate students enrolling for fall will see the two options among their program choices. Robinson said by summer, Graduate College staff will review the 100 or so spring and summer term graduate students in undeclared status to determine -- by their intent -- which program of study is accurate for them.