Interview

A Good Match: Scholarship Funds Matching Tool at U Michigan

Q & A with John Gohsman

Michigan Administrative Information Systems (MAIS) at the University of Michigan has recently developed a module in the university's existing Oracle PeopleSoft Student Administration application, to automate the scholarship matching process. The new tool will provide better service to students, more accountability and useful information to donors, and better planning options for the administration. Campus Technology asked MAIS Director John Gohsman about the Scholarship Fund Matching tool.

Campus Technology: I'd like to ask you about the Scholarship Fund Matching tool at the University of Michigan. Is this technology making the financial aid process easier?

John Gohsman: In regards to scholarship fund matching, I think the technology is helping a lot. The old process as you know was paper based--students needing to fill out an application for each department, and needing to know that there were scholarships available. It was a very reactive kind of process. What we've done here by loading the rules for each of the scholarships into the system has turned that into a proactive one, where we can search for students that have need and match them up to specific donor requirements. So we are making better use of our money, meeting the donor requests, and today, students aren't having to work as hard.

CT: Can you tell me a little about the tool?

JG: The tool is built inside of our Oracle Peoplesoft student system, so it's a vendor system but we have the ability to modify and customize it. We have all the student information in there--their financial aid information and everything they told us in the application process. What we added was the ability to put the rules for the different scholarships in and allow the administrators to run those rules against the database to find people who match.

CT: So the student information you're matching against is really more than the FASFA and includes all their application data and their current student data?

JG: Yes, it includes their academic record...

CT: Everything is factored into this rather automatically for you...

JG: Correct. We're considering allowing students to tell us even more about themselves, because there may be some things that a donor would be interested in matching that we don't know now about a student. It would be voluntary for the student to "tell us a little more," and we'd ask things that would be pertinent to the scholarship criteria that we have. But it would get the students a little more involved.

CT: Could you give me an example of the scale of the data you are working with?

JG: Our engineering college was the first one to do this, with 770 different scholarships and 3,188 unique rules. They have an endowment of $74 million where they distribute about $4.25 million in aid every year to about 500 students.

CT: And that's just the engineering college?

JG: Yes, that's just engineering. We have finished training several additional schools in this. It does take a little time for the schools to learn how to put the rules into the system. We've recently added kinesiology, education, our architecture and urban planning schools, the school of art, the school of nursing, and more. Even our central financial aid office is using the system for things that they administer on behalf of the university.

CT: So the University of Michigan is really just getting started using this. When will you begin to see an impact in your ability to match and distribute funding?

JG: I think our numbers are going to go way up next year. I talked to folks from engineering during the summer, and they had actually given out all of their funding for this year, which from a student standpoint is wonderful.

CT: So you'll be able to model this within your own institution to get other departments to use the system?

JG: Yes.

CT: And are you the first within higher education to be using this type of fund matching system?

JG: As far as we know we are the only institution doing matching in this particular way. We've presented this at higher education conferences and there are certainly other institutions out there at least thinking about doing something like this.

CT: Can the university use the system, or data from the system, as input to the planning process for financial aid?

JG: One of the nice things about this process is that they can pull students out that meet criteria and allow the committee to make decisions--regarding who and how much, and so forth--so it does allow them to do a lot of planning about recruiting as well.

CT: What are some of the other benefits this system offers, for the students, administrators, and donors?

JG: There are four points I'll try to speak to. First, it reduces our risk in terms of dispensing funds according to the donor's requirements. When you have a paper process, with criteria written on paper, it's prone to error. So just in terms of meeting donor obligations, this is a much more reliable approach. The second is, the old process was largely manual, which took a whole lot of effort. We are all trying to save money in terms ofhow we do things. So, the up front effort to write the rules in the new system is quickly offset by not needing as many staff to actually execute the process.The engineering school, for example, saved at least an FTE of staff time, just along these lines. The third would be the value to students in this economy, because to get money in their hands that isn't a loan or a work-study arrangement is a real advantage to students who are struggling. And finally, the fourth point is the value to donors. They give money with the intent of it being utilized, and I think we are doing a much better job of that. We are also able to work with them right up front with the criteria for their gift. For example, we can model the criteria and possibly tell them, "You are never going to find anyone meeting those particular criteria so you may want to adjust them." That way we can get criteria that work both for the donor and the students.

CT: I imagine you can offer well-documented proof to the donors of how their money was distributed and used according to their criteria.

JG: Yes, and we know of one example--and we hope there will be more--of a donor being so happy with the execution that they gave additional money.

CT: It sounds like there are benefits on all sides, but maybe especially for students. Do students really understand how much more customer service oriented this process is for them now than it was in the past?

JG: Probably not. The thing about students is that they turn over every four years or so, and so there is no institutional knowledge on their part of how it has been unless mom and dad tell them. We all know what we had to go through to get scholarships. Certainly today's students have all filled out the FASFA, because that helps us understand their need, but this is almost like someone just showing up and saying, "We're providing you with some money you didn't even ask for."

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