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Processing Financial Aid Applications for an Educational Non-Profit

By January 25, 2021August 21st, 2021No Comments
Processing Financial Aid Applications for an Educational Non-Profit

ARDEM was contacted by an American educational non-profit that helps college students make smarter choices while applying for financial aid by weighing their options across several universities in the United States. 

The non-profit was facing several challenges in processing loan/award letters for financial aid from the various colleges that their students apply to.  

Theimission to help students graduate with little-to-none student loan debt and their college financial coaching program that seeks to help students throughout their graduation are impressive and much needed in today’s world 

What they needed to continue was a partner who could help them by providing effective back-office support and our team immediately got down to work to engineer a successful solution to aid them in their mission.  

Defining the Scope of Work  

Our first order of business was to define the scope of work for the financial aid educational non-profit.

The non-profit helps students stay on track by minimizing financial complexity and risk to help them chose the best possible option to finance their education goals.  

As a result, college students from across the nation upload their loan/award letters for financial aid from the colleges that they have applied to. The organization then helps them weigh the different options and make the right decision for their future.  

That’s not all, the organization further assists students in completing their financial aid applications and even provides research-driven coaching to help their students complete an affordable postsecondary education. They need help as they expand their operations and a partner they can rely on for dependable back-office support for their incoming financial aid applications.  

Once the student receives his or her loan/award, they provide them with continuous guidance on how to best manage their finances to emerge debt-free.  

Here are a few challenges we identified while defining the scope of work:    

Each student can apply to multiple colleges and during certain times of the year, there are peak seasons where higher volumes of loan/award letters are received. 

The organization was struggling with extracting the data from all these loan/awards as they required a considerable amount of manual effort for processing. This, in turn, would require us to come up with an effective solution that would allow us to deliver the processed details on time while implementing quality assurance. 

Devising a Workflow to Overcome Current Challenges  

ARDEM had to create an optimized workflow to build an effective solution for the client.

As we delved deeper, we realized that we had to take several more factors into consideration while engineering an effective solution for our client.  

  • Every college/university has their own loan/award letter format and since most students do apply to multiple colleges and universities, it can be quite challenging to process all these applications in-house.  
  • Many loans/awards applications can have multiple pages as well.  
  • Therefore, any solution would have to account for these different formats that have to be mapped out for data extraction and processing.  
  • The different formats combined with the peak time periods that witnessed a sharp spike in numbers means that for the proposed solution to be successful, it would have to account for these fluctuating volumes with a scalable team to handle the seasonal fluctuations. 
  • Additionally, the quality of the scanned copies or images can also vary greatly, depending on how they were uploaded.  
  • Sometimes students upload their award letters as PDFs or even screenshots using their phones. As a result, some award letters will require more effort to extract due to the low image resolution. 

As a result of these challenges, the client’s current OCR system still rejects a significant number of award letters that require effort-based extraction as well as quality assurance to ensure the data that was automatically extracted is accurate.  

Proposing and Implementing a Successful Solution

Discover how ARDEM built and delivered a successful solution for the educational non-profit.

Keeping of the above factors in mind, our process engineers had to draft a workflow that would allow us to process and deliver data from loan/awards applications on time and also account for seasonal fluctuations in volume.  

As the client was looking for both speed and accuracy, we knew we had to build a dexterous and well-managed team to meet daily/weekly/monthly goals.  

Discover how ARDEM was able to build a successful partnership with the client: 

  • All award images that are received securely through Amazon S3 will have already gone through the initial OCR and were flagged for review.  
  • Once received, our analysts  review the award letter and extract the required fields of information within 2 hours of receipt.  
  • The data is then inputted into an output template and delivered as a CSV. file to easily upload back into the client’s system. 

Here’s how ARDEM proposed to build in additional efficiencies: 

Discover how ARDEM proposed to implement additional efficiencies for our client.
  • Utilizing a dual-key data entry process, two data entry analysts will extract the data from a single award letter simultaneously. Once the data has been extracted by both data entry analysts, the data will be run through a programmatic character by character check to review their work for any discrepancies. 
  • If any discrepancies are found, the data will be flagged for a QC analyst to review the work completed by both data entry analysts against the original award letter. The discrepancy will be corrected and the final data set will be reviewed prior to delivery. 
  • Additional efficiencies can be further implemented via customized bots and machine learning. 
  • We are fully prepared to scale up our services throughout the different seasons and match the client’s needs.  
  • As a true partner, we seek to entirely eliminate manual processing from the client’s workload to allow their team to focus more on core competencies. 

In Conclusion

“We were pleased and felt like (ARDEM) took the most time to really understand the details of our project versus the other vendors we were talking to.” 

At ARDEM, we believe in diving deep and truly understanding our clients to engineer solutions that match their present and future goals for business growth and improvement. 

We are honored to be working with our current client and being a part of the solution aimed at assisting students with financial aid and moving towards solving the national student debt crisis. 

If you would like to learn more about how we can help you expand your operations while lowering down your operating costs, get in touch with our team today!