Financial Aid employs call centers in Kentucky
By Sara Weber
Northern Arizona University’s (NAU) Office of Financial Aid will be facing some changes in the upcoming weeks as they work with new phone numbers and off-campus call centers. The new number they recommend students call is (855) 628-6333; calling the number listed on their webpage will direct the caller to the former number. During the first week of the Fall 2012 semester, the office’s phone lines crashed due to high traffic, causing Financial Aid to direct students to a different number.
The new, toll-free number leads to a Blackboard Student Services (BbSS) call center in Kentucky, also used by ASU. The call center, according to the Director of Scholarships and Financial Aid, Charles Andrew Griffin, will increase efficiency for the Financial Aid office and students alike.
“This change has significantly improved the ability of Flagstaff staff to serve e-mail and walk-in customers much more quickly and effectively,” Griffin said. “Already, call waiting times have decreased significantly; in some cases, to less than a minute.
For many students, visiting Financial Aid has become a routine. For some, it is a chore and requires multiple visits; and for others, it goes smoothly and can be handled with one call or visit.
“They were really helpful and have responded quickly,” Brittany Adams, senior English secondary education major, said. “I’ve just been waiting on my financial aid reimbursement check; I feel like the money is off in limbo-land.”
With students now communicating with off-campus staff, it seems natural to question the degree to which the call center employees will be able to assist them.
“I think it would be good, so long as they are knowledgeable on the issues,” Adams said.
When asked how the new representatives are selected, Griffin said they were put through an extensive series of training exercises.
“The call center staff is trained specifically to be NAU customer service agents,” Griffin said. “They are provided [with] a very high level of screening, training and evaluation. Hundreds of hours went into training. BbSS staff spent weeks training at the university and selected NAU staff trained at the call center. Call center’s staff, who answer the phones for NAU, are truly an extension of our office.”
Students who call the toll-free number will be instructed to listen to a series of options to determine where they will be best assisted. After entering their student ID number, the recording will give a brief summary of their financial aid package, including FAFSA updates and whether the student was awarded financial aid. According to Griffin, students’ privacy will remain a priority.
“FERPA and all other policies and regulations regarding student financial aid are followed and applied,” Griffin said.
Having answered approximately 21,000 calls this semester so far, and processing about 48,000 FAFSA applications a year, Griffin said the increasing class sizes have challenged “the staff’s ability to provide timely service in person, on the phone and via email.” Adams agreed the new call center would be helpful to more than just NAU students.
“I think it would help with the rising number of freshman,” Adams said. “Parents aren’t going to have the luxury of waiting during office hours to ask about their children’s education.”
Senior wildlife biology major, Katherine Kidder, who prefers calling Financial Aid to visiting the office, sees potential in the new extensions.
“If it would reduce waiting times on calls, I think it would work. As long as it’s a one stop source,” Kidder said.
Adams has her doubts about the call center based on prior experience with waiting for a Financial Aid representative to get back to her with valuable information.
“I prefer to go into the office,” Adams said. “. . . I called the financial aid office over the summer and had to wait an hour. Then I called again the next day, and they said they were going to get back to me, but never followed up. So I just prefer to stand in line and get it done.”
These changes to Financial Aid’s process have led to discussion of outsourcing and creating more obstacles for students. Griffin argued that is not the case.
“Let me be clear, the university has not outsourced financial aid,” Griffin said. “The university continues to manage the review, packaging and disbursement of financial aid. NAU has engaged BbSS to assist with customer service.”