Craig Fennell has a list hanging on his office wall with nearly 20 processes in the student financial aid system that he wants to improve during the next year.
“Unlike saying I have a dream, but I don’t know if it will ever come true, this is more like a vision and I have seen it before, so I know it is doable,” said Fennell, the new director of Student Financial Services.
Fennell joined Temple in April after departing from Arizona State University, where he spent nearly 10 years as executive director of student financial assistance. He replaced former director John Morris, who retired but continues to work on a part-time basis.
“[At ASU], we accomplished a lot and the office kind of ran itself. I wanted to come back closer to family and friends, [who] are in New York and up and down the Eastern seaboard, so I saw Temple was open and I applied and I got the job,” Fennell said.
On the list Fennell has developed, the verification system is ranked as one of the most important topics that needs to be addressed.
The verification system requires Temple to certify every piece of data on an application when it is randomly selected by the federal processor. Then, Temple sends out missing information notifications to the respective students and their financial aid cannot be awarded until their requirements are satisfied.
The verification system is the root of many issues at SFS, Fennell said.
“We did not begin the verification process until late spring, early summer. I can tell you that is too late to start the process. I want to start the process in early spring,” Fennell said. “If I start asking for documents in March and you and your parents get them to me in April, I will have you wrapped up in May. Once you are wrapped up, you know what your award is for the fall.”
“Part of my plan is to give the students much more time to figure out how to pay and what their aid is going to be,” Fennell added. “Time allows you to plan and planning allows you to be successful. In my opinion, we weren’t giving students enough time.”
However, Fennell also said that part of the responsibility falls on the students.
“I always think of financial aid in terms of a partnership. I want to help the students as much as I can and I am willing to do as much as I can, but I do always need the students and sometimes the parents to do a few things as well,” Fennell said.
Fennell said he believes that starting the verifications process sooner will result in less students needing to visit the office at the beginning of fall semester, reducing the wait time that many students face.
Sophomore music education major Daniel Young is one of those students who has been caught in the unfortunate situation.
“In the last three semesters between myself and my mother, we have logged over 20 hours on hold with financial aid and that is unacceptable,” Young said.
Young is not alone. At the Oct. 15 Temple Student Government General Assembly meeting, TSG Student Body President David Lopez held an open forum where students could voice their concerns about SFS.
Some of the complaints included not being able to reach an operator when the student calls, having to visit the office multiple times to address a problem and not being able to set up an appointment.
Speaking on the issue of long waiting times, Fennell said he comes from a system that has low wait times for students no matter what time of the year.
“When I came from ASU, the longest wait time we would have at the beginning of the fall, which is the busiest, was 20 minutes and that was for half of a day. Where here, unfortunately, it could be two hours and we could have that for several days,” Fennell said. “We don’t do enough to create a smooth process for them to come through. So, in doing that we have too many manual steps, we have too many steps and the website and other things do not provide enough [information].”
Furthermore, Fennell and his team have plans to develop a new website to include more detailed information and utilize the financial portion of the TUportal for a more comprehensive overview of student aid.
After graduating from Iona College in New York with degrees in history and economics, Fennell worked on Wall Street for Chemical Bank before leaving and starting a job at Iona College’s student financial services.
Fennell never left the financial services business, which he jokes is a detriment to his wallet, and now joins the SFS office with more than 20 years of experience. Fennell has worked in student financial roles as associate director at Duke University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and director at Marist and Newbury Colleges.
As for his relocation, Fennell has yet to try a cheesesteak or Hooter, he said.
Fennell and his team have hopes to noticeably change SFS and the financial aid system by the time the 2013 financial aid season begins in January.
“I’m still learning some of the processes, so I try to be careful,” Fennell said. “You can’t make a decision until you have everything you need and know everything you need to know.”
Laura Detter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.