Photo by Obaloluwa Olaniran/Managing Editor for Visual and Multimedia
Great customer service can be deemed a key component in any organization or business where the customer is satisfied with the processes and systems used to service the customer.
The Alabama State University Office of Financial Aid offers many types of Title IV aid available to the student body while guiding them through the process of securing financial assistance. From Pell Grants, Federal Work Study, loans and private loans, this is the office where 90% of students will visit to lessen the monetary burden.
While many students go there for financial assistance, they hold mixed reviews concerning the quality of services provided by the Office of Financial Aid.
Junior communications major Alexis Thornton recalls the office being in “complete shambles,” her freshman year in 2018 but has observed significant improvements in recent years.
“I remember trying to get in contact with their office via phone and no one would ever answer the phone,” Thornton said. “As a student, we should be able to contact these offices especially when it comes to dealing with important things such as money. I would have to go to their office, in person, to get their attention, and even then, they were a bit unorganized.”
“[The financial aid office] has definitely improved. However, one thing I would say in how they can further improve their customer service is responding in a better time span.”
In 2018, University President Quinton T. Ross Jr., Ed.D. was four months from completing his one year tenure as the 15th president, when the university made the decision to change the Office of Financial Aid staff, causing an uproar and concern among students.
“It was utterly horrible! I could not get in contact with them nor could I go to their office because mostly everyone had quit their jobs! I was just entering Alabama State University as a freshman in 2018 and that wasn’t a good look at all. It honestly made me want to transfer because it was so unprofessional and unorganized.” says one ASU junior who preferred to remain anonymous. “Luckily, since I’ve remained a student here, the financial aid has gotten slightly better, but still needs some work.”
“I believe overall our customer service has actually gotten better,” said Director of Financial Aid, Robyn Siddell. “We have many more contacts with students. We have been emailing students on a consistent basis. We also have implemented a text campaign with Trellis. We have also contacted students in regards to scholarship opportunities and upcoming deadlines for our office. So I believe it has gotten better but there’s always room for growth.”
Believing that the financial aid office should “keep doing what they’re doing,” said sophomore accounting major Amber Fraizer, who expressed her feelings toward customer service.
“I must say that I have had a good experience with financial aid because I can recall that when I was a freshman, I was unable to get my refund. I went over to financial aid and they helped me figure out the problem so that my refund could be processed and I could receive it to help me out financially. After that, I’ve had no problems with financial aid and everything runs pretty smoothly.”
As some students have very strong feelings toward the financial aid office, junior biology pre-health major Brianna Richburg feels indifferent.
“I’ve had a few good experiences with individual office workers but I’ve also had some bad experiences with the office. Overall, I do believe that they have improved since my freshman year, but they still have a long way to go before I could say it is in great standing with the student body.”
“My experience has been good. I always call early when they first open and my questions are usually answered as best as they can or the issue is resolved,” said sophomore biology pre-health major Antoinette Ross. “ However, I think service, time management, politeness, and respect could be implemented.”
Agreeing on the much-needed improvements, junior communications major Asyia Orum feels that the financial aid office needs to work on their speed.
“Although my experience has been pretty fair through my entire college experience, one thing they can improve on is being more time-efficient for other people’s needs and by being more pleasant to the students who come by their office.”
Echoing Orum, Ross, and Richburg’s comments, junior elementary education major India Richardson believes that “more financial aid knowledge” would be beneficial to the student body.
“Basically, I never really know which office to go to or who to see about certain things. I feel there should be a student guide for that or they should communicate better with the students. And they don’t really answer the phones that much,” Richardson stated.
She continues, reflecting on the previous issue of changes of staff during her freshman year.
“I just hope they keep the same workers cause in the past, they have fired advisers and never informed us!” Richardson exclaimed. She goes on to say that, other than those issues, the financial aid office has been a decent experience for her.
Amber Summerville is in the middle. The senior communications major expresses her issues with the financial aid office’s communication skills.
“I’ve had times where things were done in an untimely manner and it was a lot of miscommunication within the office,” Summerville mentions. “A lot of times, a work-study student would say one thing, while a staff member would say another and it would cause lots of confusion and frustration!” Although she expresses concern, Summerville also believes that some of the staff in the office are “knowledgeable and actually seem like they care.”
Junior social work major Shakeevia Ellis believes that the financial aid office could improve their customer service skills by answering their phones and considering students’ feelings.
“When I first got there [the financial aid office], it was okay. The only problem I had was one of my semesters, my loans weren’t paid out correctly so they held my refund for seven months.” Ellis said. Not answering their phones, Ellis had to take matters into her own hands by speaking to the Student Government Association (SGA) to fix the issue. “I had to speak with the [SGA] vice president, who is now president of SGA [David Hammond], and he got everything together for me.”
“We do answer our phones,” stated Siddell. “I do know that our contact information has been updated on the ASU directory and it’s also been updated on the financial aid website. Those are the active numbers that we have. I know in previous years there were additional phone numbers for our office, and those phone lines are no longer valid.”
Sophomore biology pre-health major Daisha Williams recalls the numerous issues dealing with financial aid.
“They were never quick when it came to servicing me. Even when I’ve made appointments with financial aid, I still had to wait,” Williams said. “Another issue I had was that there was always a lack of communication when dealing with the advisers in financial aid.”
She believes that if the financial aid office can “have some type of structure to the way the system is ran when dealing with students,” then they certainly can have better remarks and reviews. She continues, “It seems that they have little to no effort or care in servicing students in a timely matter. I wish that the people who work in that department had better attitudes when working with us.”
Since some students on campus are on academic scholarships that can cover up to full costs and fees, sophomore interdisciplinary studies Jason Willis believes that the financial aid office has certainly helped him be stress-free in terms of finances.
“I honestly never really went into the office because I don’t have a reason to. Since I am a presidential scholar, my scholarship covers tuition, fees, books, and room and board so I don’t have to worry about stressing over how I am going to pay for school. But to answer the question, the financial aid office has done a great job, in my opinion, helping their students. I haven’t been here for that long, but in the time I’ve been here, I’ve heard good things about the office.”
“I recently tried to buy one of my books online with my scholarship and saw it wasn’t available. When I contacted the bookstore they said that the final day to use it was only days before,” said Alexandria Hale, a junior communications major. She believes that the financial aid office should have sent out a notice notifying their scholarship recipients about the last day to use their scholarship money on books. “I think it’s a bit unfair that I wasn’t able to use it because I had no idea what book I would need to buy before the scholarship was unavailable. So I think if we continue with the eight-week format, there should be a deadline to use scholarship money online for both eight weeks, not just one like the traditional 16-week format.” Besides that one incident, Hale states that her experience with financial aid has been mainly positive and the advisers are quick to answer any questions she may have.
Some students who attend the university reside off-campus making the connection between the financial aid office and these students virtually nonexistent. Senior music major Ashley Lawson believes that she has taken fewer trips to the university now than her freshman year in 2017.
“Oh yes, the financial aid office has absolutely stepped up their game. I have been an off-campus student since my freshman year and I remember trying to call them and I would either be on hold for 5 minutes or nobody would answer. I kept hearing, ‘leave a voicemail, I am currently out of office,’ forever! But now, even though I still have to make a few trips up to the school to make sure my stuff is handled correctly, financial aid has improved and I hope they continue going down this great path!”
“Over the past year, we have helped over 300 students with the assistance that they need with their balances,” stated Siddell. She elaborates on the recent wage increase for federal work-study students from $7.25 to now $10 an hour and advises work-study students that the rate will remain the same in the upcoming academic year. “We are also working on ways, which we do each semester, to assist graduating seniors with their balances as well. So we are going to continue making those strides and if we have any partnerships that we can assist students in finding them additional assistance, we’re going to do everything that we can. But again, we need to help students succeed and take some of the stress off of students in regards to their balance.”
For students who want to contact the financial aid office efficiently and effectively, appointments should be made using the Hornet Q app www.alasu.edu/cost-aid/hornetq. Students may also contact the front desk of the financial aid office at the corrected number (334)-229-4862, where Siddell and her team will be happy to assist.