Tania Cabeza estimates she waited an average of 40 minutes every time she called to speak to a counselor in the CSUN Financial Aid and Scholarship Department in the weeks before beginning the Fall 2010 semester.
The 34-year-old doctoral student in educational leadership said in addition to the long waiting times, she was unable to resolve her financial aid concerns even when she finally got through.
“I kept getting conflicting answers with every person I talked to,” Cabeza said.
In the fall of 2009, the Office of Institutional Research reported nearly 62 percent of CSUN students received some type of financial aid, adding up to almost $200 million.
More than 20,000 students contribute to the long wait times for financial aid assistance but an online service provided by the financial aid department, called “Financial Aid TV,” may be the solution to reducing the bottleneck at the beginning of each semester.
Financial Aid TV is a library of online videos that provide answers to more than 150 questions for students seeking help on how to finance their education through loans, grants and federal work study programs. Most of the videos average 30 seconds to one minute in length.
The short videos also address basic money management, credit scoring and other topics affecting people looking for financial aid.
Linda Brignoni, senior assistant director of the Financial Aid and Scholarship Department said the online service also benefits parents.
“Even a parent can go online and look at the videos and say, ‘OK, what is a Pell Grant?’” Brignoni said.
Brignoni said that although some people prefer to go to the financial aid department and get answers from an counselor in person, Financial Aid TV has answers to many of the questions she and her staff are asked every day.
She said the accuracy it provides is especially valuable.
“One thing about financial aid is that it’s always changing. The regulations behind the programs change, and what’s great about Financial Aid TV is that they’re on top of that and any time that there’s a change, they make adjustments,” Brignoni said.
The challenge, she said, is informing students about the service and getting them to use it. Every question a student gets answered online gives the financial aid department staff more time to address more complicated concerns.
“It is on our to-do list to really take a look at it and say, ‘OK, how can we advertise this so students become more aware that it’s out there and they don’t have to call to ask those basic questions?’” Brignoni said.
She said they know some students are using the service since the department receives online feedback and click-through statistics, but thinks more students would watch Financial Aid TV if it was better promoted.
Brignoni said another explanation for why students are not taking full advantage of the service could be that the link to watch Financial Aid TV is located toward the bottom of the financial aid department home page. This makes it less likely students will notice it unless they already know it is there.
She added this is something they plan to address when the department website is redesigned later this year.
Christiaan Patterson, 23, a senior photojournalism major, said she had no idea Financial Aid TV was available, even though she was already familiar with the service. She was introduced to it two years ago while attending Antelope Valley College.
A veteran of the U.S. Navy, she transitioned from military service to college in 2008. She said Financial Aid TV helped her determine what financial aid she was eligible for.
“The clips that I found most useful involved the Post-9/11 GI Bill,” Patterson said. “When a veteran returns to civilian life, the last thing he or she wants to deal with is trying to figure out what benefits they are entitled to,” Patterson said.
She said the videos were helpful because they take complicated information and present it both verbally and visually, making the process of seeking financial aid feel less overwhelming and time consuming.
“Most of the questions are a great starting point for anyone who has no idea what to do first,” Patterson said. “It beats having to stand in that financial aid line for hours.”
Cabeza said Financial Aid TV can help some students, but she said she does not think it could provide the answers she needs.
“My question is specific to my situation, but in terms of documents and the process of financial aid, I think the videos could be helpful,” Cabeza said.