Junior English major Karina Roman lost almost $2,000 in financial aid after Student Financial Services did not answer her time-sensitive email for four months.
Since transferring to Temple this semester, Roman said she has also called SFS, which manages student accounts, tuition bills and financial aid, five times to speak to a financial adviser about her tuition payment plan. Two of those calls were dropped after she was on hold for more than 25 minutes, she said.
Roman is just one of many students who has struggled to get through to SFS to discuss their aid packages. This has left them losing aid or unable to register for classes.
SFS and the Bursar’s Office, which bills students for tuition and fees like housing, are struggling to manage high call volumes, which has led to students being disconnected after spending up to 30 minutes on hold. This has been detrimental to some students’ financial aid because they can’t get the information they need from SFS.
The university’s phone system is “out-of-date” and can only handle a certain number of calls before some of them are automatically dropped, said Emilie Van Trieste, interim director of SFS.
SFS’ office space in Carnell Hall was renovated last spring for $2.2 million, a university spokesperson said.
Updates to its phone system were not included in the renovations because the system is used university-wide, and it is not specific to the SFS and Bursar’s offices, Trieste added.
Katelynn Carr, a sophomore media studies and production major, said she was put on hold multiple times while trying to find out when her grants and loans would be disbursed.
“I would leave it ringing on speaker until I was answered, but after around 20 minutes the call would just end on its own,” she said. “I never talk to a human when that happens.”
Both SFS and the Bursar’s Office have attempted to manage the call volumes and in-person wait times through several online programs. The SFS office began using a virtual check-in service called QLess last semester to manage wait times, which have decreased since students started using the service last semester, Van Trieste said
Junior psychology major Olivia Rich emailed SFS last November to try to get her work study reinstated. When no one responded, she went to the office in person.
“They’re better with wait times in-office lately,” Rich said. “Once, [during] sophomore year, I waited in the office for over an hour. If fixing the phones means better communication, more human conversation and problem-solving, then yes, I want to see that happen.”
Owl Bot, an online chat window designed to answer simple questions, was installed on the Bursar’s Office website last October, said David Glezerman, the assistant vice president of the Bursar’s Office.
Owl Bot will be installed on the SFS website later this semester, Glezerman said.
“Phase two” of the Owl Bot software development is to connect it to the Self-Service Banner so it can answer more personalized questions, he added. The Bursar’s Office hasn’t yet determined when phase two will be implemented.
Van Trieste hopes to create an alternative for students to contact SFS about specific financial aid questions, similar to Computer Services’ method that allows students to use TUPortal to submit questions. Through this system, a student could place a call, give the details of their question or problem to an operator, who would then create an online ticket that the caller could track through TUPortal.
“Those elements of transparency and immediate sense that [an] issue is being looked into, or is in a queue of issues that is going to be looked into, is really appealing to this office,” Van Trieste said. “The university has identified that their system could be something that could help SFS get into a better position when we’re offering customer service.”
Roman said she hasn’t paid her tuition because she still hasn’t been able to get through to SFS to set up her tuition payment plan.
“We just stopped trying,” Roman said. “We figured once they realize their money is missing, they’ll be on top of it, no problem.”
“It’s like the only time you can talk to someone is if you call right when they open,” Roman added. “That’s not always feasible though. … I understand Temple is massive and there’s only so much they can do, but it’s frustrating, especially when college is so expensive.”