Case Study: Student Services Model
for a Web-Based Financial Aid Training Program
This case study design of a student support system
was developed as a small group activity in OMDE 624, Student Services.
The specific case involved establishing a student services function
to support a national financial aid association, much like the author's
organization. The final assignment submission was made under each
group member's name.
In order to increase the accessibility to quality training programs
for financial aid administrators at US postsecondary institutions,
the US Financial
Aid Association (USFAA) has entered into a collaborative effort with
a technology provider and a state university involved in distance
to develop an entirely Web-based training program. The primary objective
of the training program is to provide learners with the knowledge and
skills they need to effectively deliver financial aid from federal,
and institutional sources in accordance with funding rules and regulations.
The primary target learners are inexperienced financial aid administrators
who do not have the opportunity to attend face-to-face training workshops,
because of lack of funds, inability to travel, timing of workshops, or
Proposed Support System
The proposed support system is designed to provide support for specific
learning, a positive learning environment, and effective administrative
systems, (Tait, 2000). The overall goal of the proposed support system
is to ensure workplace or home access to the training for the intended
audience, regardless of previous experience with technology or budget limitations
(Stahmer, 1995). The specific goals of the proposed system are to:
1. Provide support that is available anytime, anywhere.
2. Rely on Web delivery, supplemented by e-mail, fax, and telephone
3. Personalize services by replicating to the greatest extent possible
the professional camaraderie of the existing network of financial aid administrators
The specific elements of the proposed support system include (Western
Information dissemination. Information for prospective students will
be distributed electronically via the Web and e-mail lists, and by
and handouts distributed at meetings of financial aid-related organizations.
The information will include descriptions of the curriculum offered and
technology used to access the training, application procedures, and benefits
Admissions. Admission support includes all activities relating to recruitment
of students for the training program, admission requirements, application
procedures, and forms. These materials will be provided on the Web and
on paper through the information dissemination activities described above.
A Web-based application for admission can be submitted online. While admission
requirements will not be stringent and 24 turn-around time for admission
decisions will be standard, the USFAA will collect background information
from all applicants to insure that the training is reaching the target
audience of neophyte financial aid administrators.
Assessments. Applicants for participation
in the Web-based financial aid training program will be given access
to a number of self-assessments
to determine their capabilities for participation. Included will be a skills
assessment to determine their existing knowledge and skills in the administration
of student financial aid; a learning styles assessment; and an assessment
of hardware and software requirements.
Orientation. Orientation services will be provided through an online
tour of the training program. The tour will include an examination
of the training
program’s online catalogue, links to the information disseminated
to prospective students, a complete explanation of the hardware and software
requirements for the program, a description of technical support features
available to learners, and a sample course or lesson. New students will
be given a course in how to be a successful online learner.
Registration. Once accepted in the training program, participants
will complete the registration process. Registration includes setting
up a password-protected
student account; installing any necessary software, such as a more recent
Web browser version or the Adobe Acrobat Reader; signing up for individual
courses; and processing payments for fees assessed for the courses.
Advising and counseling. Because this is a professional development
program primarily aimed at working professionals, advising and
focus on skill requirements for particular jobs and sharing successful
work strategies. Self-help materials will be provided on the Web training
site, with links to materials on other related sites that might be
helpful to the learner. USFAA staff will provide one-on-one advising
upon request. Collaborative counseling will be provided via Web-based
discussion forums, where students can discuss their common concerns
and share their
personal work experiences.
Tutoring and mentoring. The primary method of providing instructional
support will be through the assignment of personal mentors to participants
training program (Brindley, 1995). Mentors will be experienced financial
aid professionals serving in a voluntary capacity. They will motivate
learners by facilitating online discussions, helping them become
familiar with the
requirements of online learning, assist with any problems learners
are having with the technology, and try to replicate the professional
online (Stahmer, 1995). Mentors will communicate with learners via
e-mail, chat, online discussion forums, and telephone.
Content support. Support for understanding and applying the content
of the training program courses will be provided via interactive,
threaded discussion forums tied to particular courses and topics
courses. Mentors will facilitate discussions by providing practical
their work experience that illustrate particular aspects of the
training (Sweet, 1993). USFAA staff will provide support for the
and regulatory requirements that apply to the various financial
will be able to ask the staff these types of technical questions
by using an existing Web-based e-mail form or a technical assistance
Student records. Records of student registrations for particular
courses, and completion of the required course work, including
any online lessons,
quizzes, and examinations, will be maintained in a database that
is accessible to students using a confidential login and password.
Technology support. A help desk will be available at USFAA to
provide e-mail and telephone technical support in the use of
will be tracked and incorporated into a Frequently Asked Questions
(FAQ) document maintained on the Web site.
Additional resources. USFAA will provide an online library
of Web links to related documents, regulations, monographs,
and research on its own Web site and related financial aid
Web sites. Learners can purchase additional materials relating
financial aid program administration
via an Web-based catalogue (or bookstore) and order form.
Potential future enhancements to the student support services
provided to participants in the financial aid Web-based
training program include:
1. More closely integrating face-to-face training workshops
with distance learning experiences, so that participants
are able to benefit from the
strengths of each.
2. Seeking additional financial support from organizations
that support postsecondary institutions and uses of technology.
3. Enhancing services to students with disabilities (Western
4. Expanding the audience of students served to include
affiliated personnel at lending institutions, scholarship
agencies, and secondary school guidance
5. Customizing services for individuals through the
use of a decision support system.
6. Expanding payment alternatives to include purchase
orders, credit cards, and group discounts.
7. Contracting for help desk support for the more
complex technology-related problems.
8. Providing links to external Web sites for additional
training in non-financial aid matters, including
soft skills (management, human resources, supervision)
and technology skills.
9. Providing career services in the form of links
to financial aid-related employment opportunities
and a moderated online discussion forum about
employment opportunities in the field of financial aid.
10. Developing a full-fledged “learning community” by publishing
an Internet newsletter, conducting regular chats online, and recruiting
graduates of the training program to be mentors to new students (Western
Organization, Staff, and Resources
USFAA will manage the Web-based training program with a full-time project
director with at least two years of experience in distance education,
including curriculum development, developing student services, and providing
technology support, and a full-time technical support person with at
least two years experience in a help desk environment, assisting others
in using Internet technology. All USFAA staff will be housed at the association’s
headquarters in Washington, DC. USFAA’s technology partner in Austin,
Texas, will dedicate a project engineer and an assistant engineer to
support the project.
The USFAA will also use a matrix approach, whereby existing staff in
the training, technical assistance, Web development, and communications
will dedicate a portion of their time to support this program. While the
existing training staff members have experience in the student financial
aid program technical requirements and in developing face-to-face workshops,
they have little experience in distance education. These staff members
will need training in distance education management, instructional design
for the Web, and Web-based student support services. Such training can
be provided by outside consultants and through participation in relevant
face-to-face and Web training workshops. Each individual should enroll
in a Web-based course in order to understand more fully the learner’s
USFAA will rely on the network of experienced financial aid professionals
at its 3,100 member institutions to serve as voluntary mentors for students
in the program. The mentors will need training in online support techniques,
facilitating threaded discussions, and using chat and e-mail for effective
communications. Mentors will be expected to complete the training along
with the students they assist, so they can act as effective advocates for
the students they mentor by providing feedback to USFAA about any problems
they encounter with the training or its support mechanisms.
The USFAA Web-based training program has received initial funding through
a federal grant, which provides up to half the costs of administering the
program, with each of the three collaborating partners making up the difference.
The grant and the matching funds are sufficient for program startup and
to maintain the program in its initial stages of course offerings. However,
for the program to grow and serve larger numbers of students at the 6,000
US postsecondary institutions, several hundred banks, state agencies, and
scholarship agencies, and thousands of secondary school guidance offices,
the USFAA will need to obtain additional funding. Some financial support
will be provided through student fees. Additional support should be sought
from public and private agencies and foundations and through organizations
with a direct relationship to the students being served, for example, associations
of high school counselors, loan officers, and institutions that serve at-risk
Finally, while the mentoring program is an important aspect of the student
support services provided, it will be dependent on a constant stream of
volunteers to serve as “off-campus tutors” (Paul, 1990). The
USFAA will need to consider some form of compensation for these mentors,
particularly as the program grows and USFAA brings in additional revenue
to support the program.
The overall goal of the training program is to provide training that
will have a positive impact on the work performance of financial aid
in postsecondary education institutions. The goal of the student support
services evaluation is to continuously determine to what degree the support
services enhance the student’s learning, help eliminate any obstacles
the student encounters using Web technology, and promote learner independence
(Paul, 1990; Brindley & Paul, 1996). The USFAA will be particularly
interested in evaluating the impact of the mentoring program on learners’ success
in training and attitudes toward learning in this environment.
To accomplish this evaluation, the USFAA will administer quarterly
student questionnaires, covering the full range of support activities,
information dissemination, orientation, registration, content support,
tutoring and mentoring, technology support, and student records. Students
will be asked to rate their own participation in the Web-based threaded
discussion forums and their interactions with their mentors. Mentors
will complete a similar quarterly evaluation, which will include
their experiences mentoring others. USFAA will also examine Web site
and discussion forum usage statistics and help desk activity on a
With limited resources, the USFAA is attempting to have a positive
impact on the ability of financial aid administrators in US postsecondary
to obtain the training they need without having to travel to distant
locations. This environment represents particular challenges for Web-based
training and student support, given the history of professional camaraderie
and networking that has existed in the 35-year history of US financial
aid administration as a profession. Students who complete financial aid
training on the Web may feel they have received a second class education,
and, if only their institutions had been more willing, they could have
benefited from the preferred type of workshop training that many of their
colleagues have had. Overcoming this feeling of isolation will be USFAA’s
particular challenge, just as it is a challenge for distance educators
everywhere. At the same time, postsecondary institutions, including their
financial aid offices, rely increasingly on technology to support their
students, and distance education is growing rapidly as a viable alternative
to or supplement of traditional classroom education. This could result
in increased acceptance of distance education as a method for training
administrators as well as students in postsecondary education.
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