“I wish it was a little bit faster, and I wish it was a little bit easier,” says Krystle Dinunzio, a second-year history major, when asked about the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) process. While her experience with OSAP has been mostly positive, there is certainly room for improvement.
Fortunately, York University’s Process Re-engineering and Service Enhancement (PRASE) student services initiative has dramatically cut the processing time of OSAP applications and raised the proportion of students who received funding at the start of their school year.
In partnership with Student Financial Services, a unit within the Division of Students, a pilot project released funding for more students faster, compared to Fall 2012. The benefit for students and the University is that the sooner funding is released, the sooner tuition fees can be paid, and in this instance funds were made available just in time for the start of the fall semester.
Processing time depends on several factors, including date of submission of the OSAP application and workflow within Student Financial Services. With more than half of York students relying on OSAP to fund their education, the volume of applications is high. The pilot project has realized some impressive results: the document review process took, on average, 51 per cent less total time to complete, down to 13 days from last year’s 27 days. Meanwhile, the number of incoming loan applications increased by 3.4 per cent, the number of students who were confirmed to receive OSAP funding rose by 18.5 per cent.
“I know it’s gotten better because we don’t have to go in, they just do it directly through direct deposit, which is more convenient,” says Melissa Abraham, a fourth-year administrative studies student.
As a result, more funds made it into the hands of more students by the beginning of fall term classes, increasing the timely payment of tuition fees and the allocation of money for textbooks and other student expenses.
According to Nevia Jelenic, associate director of Financial Aid, “[The initiative] has given us an opportunity to bring stakeholders from different areas into this discussion … so that we have a better sense in terms of how they perceive the program. They have come up with some good suggestions, they have raised some really important questions, I think it also helps them to understand some of the challenges that our Financial Aid office is facing.” This reflects the Division of Students’ vision to be “partners in student success.”The Registrar’s Office also launched a micro-site to guide students as they apply for and receive OSAP. Use of the micro-site was 10 times greater than that of York’s former OSAP homepage. The implication is that fewer phone calls and in-person visits will be made to Student Client Services.
“One of the things we want to try to improve this year is the appeals process, which is less straightforward because each appeal has its own unique issues,” says Lucy Bellissimo, director of Registrarial Enterprise Initiatives in the Registrar’s Office. “So another goal for us is to look at supporting that process and trying to find ways to improve it.”
Some of the challenges that Student Financial Services continues to encounter include a complex and resource intensive funding process for part-time students; the Ontario Tuition Grant, which stipulates the review and processing of documents for students who do not apply for OSAP; as well as increasingly complex student appeals. Student Financial Services will continue to provide support for out-of-province financial aid, US loans and the bursary for students with disabilities.
As the volume of York students accessing financial aid grows, the Registrar’s Office and Student Financial Services is working to improve processes both internally and cooperatively with government partners.
Submitted by Maya Sokolovski, a student writer in the Division of Students