Planning financially for college can be overwhelming, but Southeast Missouri State University is working to provide the tools and support students and their families need to make their higher education dreams a reality.
The office of Student Financial Services (SFS) at Southeast has new and simplified processes in place to better serve prospective and current students.
“We know financial aid can be a hurdle, but we strive to make it a hurdle students can easily step over instead of leaping,” said Matthew Kearney, director of Southeast’s Student Financial Services (SFS).
One of those hurdles, he says, can be selection by the U.S. Department of Education for Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) verification. This process requires students to provide additional documents to confirm the information submitted on the FAFSA is correct. Verification helps Southeast accurately determine the type and amount of aid a student should receive.
Students are encouraged to complete verification and all financial aid processes as early as possible, Kearney said.
For those students selected for verification, a new SFS process is tracking their status through every step and streamlining the awarding of student financial aid, Kearney said. SFS staff link required submitted documents to a student’s account, and SFS specialists review the documentation to ensure they are the correct documents and all pieces are complete and legible. If questions arise, SFS staff immediately reach out to students to resolve any issues. Finally, SFS Operations staff verify the documentation. Students can also track their progress in their student portal and receive weekly messages from SFS about their progression through the verification process. Kearney advises students to regularly check their email to avoid missing important information.
“Communication is the key, and we are making sure everything is clear and consistent for students to understand,” Kearney said. “The new process is more efficient, and we’ve already seen a significant increase in the number of students who have completed verification by the first day of classes.”
SFS is also working to improve communication with new students before they attend First STEP orientation, so their first visit to campus is not their first interaction with SFS, Kearney said. SFS works to maintain their connection with students throughout their entire time at Southeast, with phone calls and emails to returning students who may have additional financial planning and documentation to complete while at the University.
Further simplification this year is the elimination of a previous requirement for students to complete acceptance paperwork for federal Pell Grants, Access Missouri grants, merit scholarships or most endowed scholarships before agreeing to a student loan. Those benefits are now automatically granted and applied to their accounts on their behalf, Kearney said.
“Any time there’s a barrier and an additional step, it’s easier for students to walk away or give up,” he said. “We can help students feel confident and prepared from their first day on campus until their last.”
Other new SFS initiatives include a new cashiering system, which SFS has acquired and is working on implementing tentatively for next spring. This new system will provide students easier access and navigation options. SFS will implement a five-month payment plan option starting with the Spring 2020 semester billing, providing students another opportunity to help manage and cover their costs on a schedule that better suits their needs.
In addition, SFS has changed its billing cycle to better accommodate students, with payments due at the beginning of the month. The first cycle began Aug. 1, giving students a little more time than in previous years to determine payment arrangements, Kearney said.
Those with questions should always call Student Financial Services at (573) 651-2253 or visit semo.edu/sfs.
“If something is confusing, we work to review each student’s situation personally with them,” Kearney said. “We do this every day for thousands of students, and we try to break it down and walk them through the process. Financial aid can be difficult, but we’re here to help. Southeast’s success is our students’ success.”