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Highline College and Amazon Web Services Build Tracking Tool to Streamline Financial Aid

Highline College in Des Moines, WA, and Amazon Web Services (AWS) collaborated recently to solve the community college's huge backload of financial aid to its large, diverse student population.

Reporting in a blog post, AWS said the college approached the company for help following "a major student information system transition, a period of increased staff turnover, and working through the COVID-19 pandemic." The department was trying to field 250 to 300 contacts each week, more during peak deadline periods, from students needing information about the status of their financial aid.

"What we needed was a program or a tool that both reduced the load on staff and improved the process for the students," said Corinne Soltis, director of financial aid.

AWS said the college hadn't yet taken advantage of "more modern AWS Cloud tools," so it brought in a special team to build a tracking tool that students could use to get simple information, such as financial aid deadlines and approvals, leaving the more complex questions for staff.

They completed building the tracking tool and had it up and running in six weeks, the company said. Features of the tool include:

  • Communication with students via text and e-mail when something changes in their financial aid;
  • A display of status information not previously available to students, explained in clear, precise language; and
  • Links to items needing action.

The tool is very simple to use, AWS said. Students log in to their myHighline account to access their financial aid information.

The tool's functionality is based on how Amazon tracks packages.

"We thought that students should be able to ask the same question: 'Where am I in the financial aid process?'" said Tim Wrye, chief information officer and executive director of IT services at Highline. "With future improvements already planned, the eventual goal is to turn the tool into a real-time tracker of financial aid packages."

The results have been highly successful, AWS reported. In 2022, Highline financial aid staff conducted file reviews up until the start of fall quarter. This year, with the tool, they had it done by May. Federal FAFSA aid applications took 120 days in the past; now it takes half that time. And Highline was the first in the state to send out its financial aid award letters, the blog post noted.

For the future, the college wants to keep partnering with AWS to create a process for automating document reception, authentication, and data entry, condensing "27 screens of student information into one view."

For more information, read AWS's blog post.

About the Author

Kate Lucariello is a former newspaper editor, EAST Lab high school teacher and college English teacher.

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