In 2010, Columbus State Community College was intent on improving. Boasting a student population of over 27,000 students, the institution processed 97% of enrolled student’s financial aid funds through grants, scholarships, Pell Grants and federal student loans. Most students relied on some type of Aid and their success was dependent on the College and its Financial Aid programs.
At the same time, the campus bookstore was feeling the effects of the dramatic change in the retail industry. Web sellers and new formats, like ebooks, are changing the way students acquire and use their course materials. At Columbus State. these two trends, and others caused the Financial Aid Office and Campus Store to not sit idly but to join forces.
In 2011, the Campus began the process of instituting FA~Link, a real-time connection between the Campus Store and student’s financial aid managed in the Ellucian Colleague SIS systems. Phil Sanders, Course Materials Manager at Columbus State Community College told members of ICBA: “We’re very well supported by administration on the campus” and the campus undertook the purchase and implementation of FA~Link, in an effort to make use of Financial Aid funds easy and effective.”
Phil described the process as not only beneficial for the project but also for campus relations, bringing together teams that typically don’t work closely together: “Work to get FA Link up and running was really easy because we were in the same room with IT and on the conference calls with FA Link. We were talking with financial aid and the business office and going through this and seeing it really was a big improvement for our relations with some of the areas on campus. They really saw us as an asset and ally because we got to sit down at the same tables and build some relationships”
FA~Link provided a big win for the Columbus Community College’s bookstore in 2012 including:
In the past students would register for classes and drop them once they were written a check. Now, early disbursal could come through the Campus Store and student’s purchases were controlled. FA~Link made for highly customizable limits on purchases per student.
“We have certain categories that are eligible,” he said. “So it’s not on our associate on the front end to say, ‘oh well this is a gift item, we can’t charge that.’ If it’s on the transaction, the financial aid funds will not apply to those items. So that’s really kind of a set it forget it type of function there.”
The flexibility and ease of use of the FA~Link system works for everyone, not just students.
The revenue increase on the campus bookstore opened up a new world of opportunity. Suddenly the Campus Store had become a true partner with the academic side creating textbook affordability initiatives, reductions in some of the margins, and helping the academic side lower their textbook prices.
“Transactions are nearly as smooth as credit card transactions,” Sanders said. Faster distributions of funding also ensures the window of purchase before classes begin allow students more flexibility to visit the bookstore. The rush period is spread across the week before and when classes start — with funds available to avoid long lines and wait times.
Columbus Community College is always monitoring student pain points and using FA~Link was a no-brainer solution to solve some of the frustrating issues. Offering real-time connection between SIS and Campus Stores, seamless student transactions with their ID cards, and are just a few core features Sander’s appreciates. “It really has been a great thing for our students here.”