Financial aid payouts delayed by overload

By Andy Kwalwaser

A computer overload delayed last week’s disbursement of $160 million in financial aid to University students. Disbursements for the spring semester were released Tuesday, one day later than expected.

Financial aid is disbursed to qualifying students before the start of each semester. Individual awards vary from student to student based on need.

The Office of Financial Aid said the delay was due to a high volume of requests.

“That’s a problem of being so large and having so much money to disburse,” said Senior Associate Director of Financial Aid Robert Andersen.

On Jan. 6, the office sent the disbursements for review by University Student Financial Services and Cashier Operations. The process took more than seven hours, enough time to set back the initial timetable given on the financial aid Web site, Andersen said.

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“When we’ve had (delays) in the past, they were caused by something that caused the system to crash,” said Assistant Director of Receivables John Hockersmith. “This one was not a crash. It was a volume of time issue. With the start of spring semester, there are assessments that have to run.”

The Office of Financial Aid, however, has received a small number of student complaints regarding the delay, Andersen said.

“The delay is a one-day process. Disbursements did happen,” Andersen said, adding that the University experienced a similar delay two years ago. “Last year we still got it done. The refunds didn’t take as long.”

The Office of Financial Aid is examining the technology involved in the most recent delay, including the Banner Financial Aid electronic self-service platform.

Most students who receive financial aid through the University were notified of their sums in award letters sent prior to the delay. Students have the option of appealing award decisions with a financial aid adviser.

“They can come in and talk to us. There’s not always a lot we can do. We typically give as much as we can,” Andersen said.

On Friday, refunds for students who had remaining balances in their financial aid accounts after paying for their spring semester were sent out to 16,000 University students at the Urbana-Champaign and Chicago campuses, most of whom live off-campus and do not pay for University housing.