MEFA: Expanding Services for Financing Higher Ed

The Massachusetts Educational Financing Authority (MEFA) is a self-financing, not-for-profit authority that was founded in 1982 by the Massachusetts state legislature. Its primary purpose is to assist students, parents, colleges, and universities in financing higher education. This is accomplished by providing critical information necessary for planning and financing education, offering low-cost loans, and establishing structured college savings programs.

MEFA Loan Programs planned to expand service to students and parents by offering the Federal Family Education Loan Programs (FFELP), Stafford (subsidized and unsubsidized), and Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students (PLUS) during the 2002-2003 Academic Year. This set of FFELP programs required MEFA to partner with American Student Assistance (ASA), a federal loan program Guarantor. MEFA also required an information technology solutions provider that possessed the ability to work with CommonLine standard files, which enable a financial aid office to send and receive files directly from the financial aid management systems. After reviewing several technology providers, MEFA discovered that Edgewater Technology, based in Wakefield, Mass., had extensive experience with these file types, having supported ASA's systems development initiatives for more than eight years. Tom Smith, MEFA's Director of Information Technology, explains, "ASA recommended Edgewater Technology to us based on its understanding of the student loan industry, knowledge of ASA's loan processing system, and its history of delivery excellence for ASA."

Hands-On Experience
MEFA initially contacted Edgewater Technology in October 2001. Development began in November 2001, and the system was finally launched in March 2002. Edgewater worked closely with MEFA to understand its business requirements and document them as functional requirements. Technical design and system architecture documents were then created and followed by coding of rules and interfaces based on the functional requirements. When development had been completed, the project team performed three distinct testing phases: QA Test, User Acceptance Test, and External Customer Test. Upon successful completion of the test phases, the system was implemented at MEFA.

Edgewater chose to use a SQL Server database and the C++ programming language because MEFA had a familiarity with both, as well as maintained a SQL Server database for another system. By choosing these technologies, it minimized the learning curve for MEFA employees. Knowledge transfer and training for technical users was performed throughout the project ensuring MEFA had a solid understanding of the system and a high comfort level with the technology prior to the system going live. Having Edgewater Technology developers side-by-side in User Testing scenarios and during the transition from development to production enabled MEFA's Information Technology staff to take the project in-house easily and efficiently. Database Administrators and Local Area Network (LAN) personnel also benefited from the hands-on training.

System Enhancements
According to Smith, "The system has operated virtually bug-free since it has been deployed." MEFA's system has required some enhancements over the past year to better manipulate data that's being sent to them from the loan originator. The enhancements provided additional error checking logic at the attribute level and immediate e-mail notification of errors to the system administrator. As far as hang-ups go, Smith explains, "Coordination of testing with MEFA's student loan partner posed some challenges due to MEFA's implementation schedule, but the problems could be characterized as insignificant."

MEFA's new system enabled FFELP data to be securely transferred between MEFA, ASA, and its loan-servicing partner. In addition, MEFA is now able to closely monitor its loan processing activities, while storing appropriate loan data. With Edgewater's expertise in developing applications for the loan processing industry, MEFA will be able to expand its service offerings and interface with ASA efficiently and effectively. "Edgewater Technology has proven to be extremely efficient and supportive," says Smith.

For more information, visit www.mefa.org, or contact Tom Smith, Director of Information Technology, MEFA, at tsmith@mefa.org.

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