Financial aid office takes steps to address issues related to high call volumes

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This image was created by Zoe Little through Canva using Sketchify.

Genesis Gonzalez and Anna Kuchison

The Center for Student financial aid assists many Cal State LA students in the pursuit of their education but for some, the experience can be like going to the DMV with long and tedious lines.

“I usually schedule my appointments online so the wait isn’t too long because it’s easier for me,” said Arely Madrigal, a business administration major.

Madrigal said that she has not encountered issues with the financial aid office but she said that her friends have complained about long wait times, the help not being great, and how hard getting in touch with the office can be. 

“When I went in person, I noticed there were a lot of students and not a lot of staff helping,” she said.

Alysson Lingad, a graphic communications major who reached out to the Financial Aid Office in early September, said that she waited for about half an hour before receiving a response.  

“It took a while to speak to someone,” said Lingad. “Although when I did appeal to someone, they did help me out quickly.” 

As much as Lingad appreciated the help she received from the Financial Aid Office, she said that improvements could be made, such as making the call wait time “not be too long.” As inconvenient as Lingad’s wait time was, it could have been much worse. 

Heidy Gomez, an undeclared major, has struggled to resolve issues with her financial aid since the summer. Due to the office’s inability to respond to her requests before the start of her first semester at Cal State LA, Gomez was forced to start the semester two weeks late and is still struggling to catch up in her classes. Gomez said she is also still working to receive assistance from the office. 

“If I call at 9 a.m., I can expect to wait on hold for over an hour,” she said. “If I call in the afternoon, I won’t be able to get through at all.”

Margeret Garcia, executive director of the Financial Aid Office, and Tamie Nguyen, the financial aid director, spoke to the University Times about why it has been an issue for students to make an appointment. 

“What I believe happened is that there was possibly an expectation this year that people came to campus thinking the services were in-person and that disappointment is different from what they expected, which led to a different perception than what we did last year, completely remote,” said Garcia.

Garcia also added that there will always be peak periods of high demand during the fall semester where students need to be patient because there will be many students trying to access the services in a small amount of time.

Despite the difficulties that Cal State LA’s Center for Student Financial aid is facing, they are trying to find solutions. Garcia talked further about a new feature that students can use. 

“This feature is called ‘the Eagle Q’ but it is only intended for in-person services and it’s basically a queuing system,” she said.

With this new feature, students can check-in at the Student services building with their cell phone or tablet. Scanning the QR code prompts them to sign into Eagle Q where they will be asked for their phone number. This would allow students to get a text with a number and once it’s the students turn, they can head to a window and speak to a representative.

Garcia said that students will have to identify whether they need to see admissions, records, or financial aid and they will be told exactly how long the wait will be and what window to report to.

The University Times conducted an informal poll on the experience of students’ who sought help from the financial aid office. After leaving a call back number, out of the 87 students surveyed, 57% received a call back and 43% said they didn’t recieve a call back. Out of the 95 students surveyed 62% of students got the help they were looking for and 38% said they didn’t get the help they were seeking.

Garcia noted that the Cal State LA’s Center for Student Financial Aid office was currently understaffed.

“We’re certainly not fully staffed, but you know, just like any unit across campus, there’s a vacancy at any given time,” she said. “We happen to have some vacancies, but we are fully meeting all student needs.”  

Garcia did not specify the number of vacancies but she said, “We are currently advertising for vacancies in three positions and have completed interviews for three others.”

Although Cal State LA has already started making changes, it still has a lot to improve upon. Nguyen said Cal State LA’s Center for Student Financial Aid office continues to assist students during challenging times.

“We are committed to serving every Cal State LA student, and we’re here to support them,” she said. “We’re here to demystify the process for them.”