San Bernardino Valley College Eases Financial Aid Process Via Technology 

It's too much money to pass up, and so little time. The San Bernardino Valley College Financial Aid office is still waiting for students to submit their Calgrant applications for the March 2 deadline.


Depending on the need, this school year offers full-time students access to Pell Grants from $762 to $6,095.  Among several types of grant funding available, qualifying full-time students can also receive the Cal Grant B award at $1,672, or the Cal Grant C award at $1094. Students attending a community college and meet the income guidelines can also access the California College Promise Grant, formerly known as the BOG fee waiver.

  
Ernesto Nery Jr., Director of Financial Aid, said one problem for students is that many wait until the last minute, or until classes begin, to start applying for FAFSA, as well as other grants. Students on track for a four-year college or university can access even more money, money that they never have to pay back, but there are a few strings attached.  


“[Don't] miss that crucial deadline to get the Calgrant award, which in itself could be about $5-6,000," he said. "If they plan to go Cal State or UC [system], that Calgrant could potentially pay all their tuition expenses, as well as give them close to $6,000 for the year." 
For the 2018-19 year, the SBVC Financial Aid Office disbursed $631,736 in Cal Grant awards, $590,898 in Student Success Completion Grants, and $11,054,253 in Pell Grant awards to date.  


Nery said that it's also important that students don't overload classes, and set themselves up for failure. Students that exceed 90 attempted units, at 150 percent of the program, may lose their financial aid. 


The college tries to link students to available resources and counseling to avoid backtracking through the process, he said. “If they take too many units and drop too many units, or change their major too many times, that will accumulate and put them over the max to receive financial aid,” he said. 


Students must get their applications completed on time and keep their grades up to avoid losing financial aid. Failing to do that may result in termination. But even then, they can access a second chance through appeal online through interactive Satisfactory Academic Counseling. If they pass that exam at 80% percent they can be reinstated. 


“This is another way to get the students to understand that there are certain requirements that they need to meet to continue to receive financial aid,” he said.  


SBVC students are also getting smarter about how and where to get the money with artificial intelligence.  Since the Chatbot launched in May 2018,   there have been 3,199 interactions. The technology is a work in progress, but he said it is being utilized and gaining traction.

Students don't necessarily have to wait for staff, or go to the counter, or wait on the phone. “We are looking at that right now. We hope by 2020 to go fully electronic,” he said.  


The college will always still accept in-person documents, but students and parents will then be able to submit from virtually anywhere.  Financial aid staff will be available in the lobby area to help students submit forms online, which will avoid long lines and wait times. 


He said students are also more inclined to complete the application through the app process. “People in this age are used to text, quick, easy and short. FAFSA now has an app instead of going to the website. The app is a lot easier, user-friendly,” he said. Everyone is ready for the technology, he said. “They won't have to physically wait in line,” he said. “Hopefully, that will alleviate those potential barriers, the time frame, the wait times.”