On Sunday, Feb. 4, students were informed of the recent creation of the Office of Student Financial Services, which will merge the Offices of Financial Aid, Student and Employee Accounts, and Student Employment into one student service.
The announcement was made in the form of an all-campus email written by Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Art Rodriguez and Associate Vice President for Financial Services and Treasurer Steve Dahnert, which was sent out by Dean of Strategic Planning and Academic Resources Marianne Begemann.
The email read, “Through this new venture we strive to provide a seamless service to students to ensure that they are able to successfully complete all stages of applying for and obtaining aid, processing refunds from and/or payments to their student account, and securing employment.”
The new office is in the south wing of the Main Building, the former location of the Financial Aid and Student Employment offices.
Although the first steps towards consolidating the offices came seven years ago, when the Offices of Student Employment and Financial Aid unified, the idea for a coalescence of the existing student finance offices originated over the summer as a response to the upcoming Voluntary Retirement Incentive Offer, which has caused some staff members, including Student and Employee Accounts Office Accounting Assistant Colette Beal, to accept the retirement package and resign.
The three student finance offices, having observed similar decisions made by some of Vassar’s peer institutions, took the opportunity provided by a smaller staff to form one collective system around the Office of Financial Aid, who did not lose any of its staff. The creation of the new system was, by result, less a product of operational concerns than the timing of the College’s execution of the early retirement incentive program.
Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Art Rodriguez commented, “The merger of financial aid and student employment and student and employee accounts into one office made sense since students and families often find themselves working on financial issues across the two offices.
He continued, “Having the offices work together in a common space should provide efficiencies for students and families as they begin their relationship with Vassar and continue through to graduation.”
The main objective of the creation of the new Student Financial Services Office is to streamline the College’s critically acclaimed student finance programs by consolidating them under the umbrella of one central office. Begemann commented on the plan in an emailed statement, “The financial concerns of students and families related to paying for the Vassar education can be answered by a single team of individuals who understand the full range of needs and questions that students might have.”
She went on to say, “Through this venture we strive to provide seamless service to students to ensure that they are able to successfully complete all stages of applying for and obtaining aid, processing refunds from and/or payments to their student account, and securing employment.”
The College’s announcement came in light of Vassar’s recent ranking by the Princeton Review, a college admissions services and information company, as having the best collegiate financial aid program in the United States. The new system was created only last month, however, so the benefits of implementing it remain to be seen.
Director of the Office of Student Financial Services Jessica Bernier remarked, “My immediate hope is that students and families will be patient with us this semester as we continue to cross-train and familiarize ourselves with the functions of each office. And in the future we plan to be the place that students feel comfortable coming to or contacting regarding all of their financial issues.”
Despite the restructuring of the organization and physical location of student financial services on campus, those in charge of the merger are now aiming to reassure students that the changes will serve only to make students’ and students’ families’ ability to navigate the College’s services easier and should not create any new systematic problems.
Begemann remarked, “We know that the process of applying for and receiving aid is an extremely complex and sometimes stressful process. With almost 60% of our students on aid, we have the responsibility to make that process as painless as possible, recognizing that doing so is difficult and that it does not stop when students are admitted.”
She continued, “The Office of Student Financial Services supports students from the time they apply for aid and have questions about funding their education to the time they graduate and pay their final bill, sometimes longer. We are recognized for our commitment to access through our admissions and financial aid policies, but being at the top requires that we have great services while students are on campus too.”