Improving Financial Aid Verification with ECM: How Palm Beach State College Decreased Backlog from Six Weeks to Two Days

One of the most labor-intensive and cumbersome processes for staff, students, and parents is financial aid Verification. On a national level, usually about 30% of students applying for financial aid have to have their documentation and eligibility verified. At Palm Beach State College—until recently officially a community college—this number is higher, at times exceeding of college student with laptop

Verification is used to confirm financial aid application data or to address discrepancies. Inefficient collection and processing of Verification documents can delay notifications of financial aid award eligibility to students, which can have a negative impact on enrollment.

Palm Beach State recognized that paper-based processing was obstructing their Verification process. The College had been suffering processing backlogs of up to six weeks during peak periods, and although available financial aid had nearly doubled in the past two years, budget constraints prevented the Financial Aid Office from hiring additional full-time staff.

Palm Beach State staff understood that they could use enterprise content management (ECM) to expedite Verification by eliminating paper from the process. The College used their ECM system—DocFinity, by Optical Image Technology—to combine point-of-entry scanning, workflow, and outsourcing to address their challenges. The result was a cost savings of more than 50%. Other benefits from using ECM to simplify financial aid Verification included:


Palm Beach State College serves more than 50,000 students in one of the largest counties in Florida. Composed of four campuses, the College receives approximately 20,000 applications per year. Palm Beach State’s success in implementing enterprise content management (ECM) in Admissions and Registration served as an impetus to expand the solution to the Financial Aid Office.

Chuck Zettler, Director of Information Technology Project Management, explains, “Prior to the College’s ECM implementation, the Financial Aid Office did not have a system to accept separate components of Verification and required a complete packet to be submitted at one time. This increased the length of time students remained in an incomplete status and also created a sense of frustration for students attempting to complete the process.” Processing delays led to backlogs, and ultimately resulted in lower enrollment rates when students were unable to receive award eligibility notices in a timely manner. The College needed to find a way to improve turnaround without adding full-time staff. At the same time, they needed to cut students with laptop on steps

Phase one: Point-of-entry scanning

As part of an enterprise-wide analysis in preparation for their ECM implementation, Palm Beach State determined that they could improve student services by transitioning from paper processing to electronic workflow and automation. An integral component of their transition was the installation of 65 Fujitsu scanners on desktops, counters, mail stations, and throughout the human resources department. This enabled the College to import information from any service desk on any of the campuses.

Point-of-entry scanning helps the College eliminate paper at the source. Student/staff information is available as soon as it is scanned and indexed. Stored in a centralized repository, records and other documents are available for immediate processing. Point-of-entry scanning provides Palm Beach State with dramatically improved access and information sharing across all four campuses. As a result, the College can accept financial aid Verification documents in person, by mail, or via fax. Different components of Verification can be submitted at varying times.

Phase two: Workflow

Upon receipt, Verification documents are immediately scanned into the ECM system. When all of the required documents arrive, they are immediately marked as received, then automatically packaged electronically and launched into a workflow for processing. The ECM system displays a simple interface within the student information system, which does an electronic evaluation.

A program which runs in the background creates a report that lists students and provides Verification information in a text file. COLD imports the text file. Workflow picks it up and packages the documents electronically. The package is then workflowed to separate queues on campus or for offsite review, where it can be accessed securely via a VPN. Zettler explains, “The student information system knows when all documents are received. A nightly batch report initiates the Verification packet, and DocFinity knows when to gather and flow the package for further processing.”

Phase three: Outsourcing financial aid Verification

Outsourcing is a logical solution to Verification processing, as it addresses challenges resulting from the seasonal fluctuations in processing volumes. It also addresses limitations associated with a lack of physical processing space at the College. Zettler says, “The VPN authenticates review personnel and allows them to access the appropriate student records and documents directly through DocFinity. By outsourcing to professionals in New York, North Carolina, and other remote locations throughout Florida, we can process more work without increasing the number of full-time staff.”

David Bodwell, Director of Financial Aid at Palm Beach State, elaborates, “Verification documents are accessed and processed from remote locations. Without electronic access, we would have to mail or FedEx paper documents to a central location, to which processors would have to drive in order to work with the paper. When you take into consideration the resources that we’d have to expend, DocFinity saves us 50% of costs that would be incurred otherwise.”

The big picture

Palm Beach State’s ability to improve Verification turnaround has a direct impact on enrollment. Under the paper-based system, recipient notification of financial aid award eligibility often took so long that students would enroll elsewhere. By expediting processing with ECM, students today are notified of financial aid awards well in advance of priority dates and enrollment deadlines. Enrollment has increased by 15% since the ECM system was implemented. Furthermore, Palm Beach State anticipates that if they had not used ECM to address Verification, their processing costs would have doubled. Instead, their transition to ECM enabled the College to complete more Verifications by September 15, 2009, than they did in all of 2008 for the same cost.

Zettler summarizes, “DocFinity gave us the ability to outsource processing for financial aid Verification. Without it, we would never have been able to dig out of the backlog.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *