Location, location, location:

Pulling five services together on the first floor of the Franklin Building streamlines a historically cumbersome process for students.

In the ultimate best-case scenario, they don't have to go there at all.


 A transformed first floor of the Franklin Building houses the PENNCard Center, a unit

of Business Services, along with Registrar's staffers including Brenda Bundy, above.

One-Stop Shopping in Student Administrative Services by Frank Claus

On the first floor of the Franklin Building a student will now find:

  • Student Financial Services
  • The Registrar
  • The Cashier
  • The PennCard Center

These offices constitute core administrative services, which affect all enrolled students. Each of the offices has remote access capabilities, though PENNCard requires a photograph and thus a visit. When special attention is needed these offices can give expert assistance with maximum convenience.

Student Financial Services

In 1988 the concept of one-stop shopping got started in earnest at Penn--at least insofar as student finance was concerned--with the founding of a unified Student Financial Services drawing together Financial Aid, Loans and Bursar.

But, streamlining the details surrounding students' financial dealings with the University goes beyond creating an organizational entity. Coping with the cost of attendance, and the stress associated with student financial processes, requires a variety of approaches designed to meet the needs of students and the academic and social structure of the life that students follow.

This is the basis of our grouping of services in the renovation of the Franklin Building's first floor, so that five separate operations, in three separate reporting lines, are now found by the student with only one visit. Two of the services--Penn Card and the 24-hour Penn In Touch facility with its handy stamp machine--also serve the faculty and staff.

Evolving technology has provided some of the solutions, and SFS is pursuing three goals to take advantage of new ways of doing things:

1. Reduce the need for students to visit the central facility. By automating loan check disbursement, 80% of all loan disbursements are now achieved electronically by credit to the student account. This year SFS also introduced a program that permits students to directly deposit refunds to their bank account. Almost 3000 students signed up for this service, avoiding the need to visit SFS for their checks. SFS has also introduced an e-mail service, FAX service, a sophisticated telephone system, and a web site where many questions can be answered. While forms have been eliminated wherever possible, and more will be eliminated, those that remain are available on the web as well as by mail.

2. Place in the hands of students and administrators the means to solve their own problems.

Penn-In-Touch permits students anywhere in the world to have access to their own financial and registration information. This program is a joint effort of the Office of the Registrar, UMIS, and SFS. Within the secure environment of Penn In Touch, a student can change his/her address, review his/her account, register for courses, get an unofficial transcript, check financial aid status, and e-mail messages to appropriate departments. Forms will some day be eliminated in favor of electronic entry. Besides Penn In Touch, SFS has an extensive web site, improved literature, and telephone inquiry capabilities.

To assist administrators, SFS instituted SFSEASI, a fully distributed computer system which captures student information from several systems and permits easy navigation between SFSEASI, SFS, and the Student Financial Aid system.

3. If a visit is necessary, the first contact should solve the problem if possible.

Partly by drawing services together in one location, and partly through redoubled staff training and effort, SFS made its primary objective to have the first person contacted solve the student's financial issue if possible. Reducing referrals is at the heart of the plan.

Students once lined up to wait for service at a counter where they would discuss confidential and sometimes embarrassing situations within earshot of classmates, there is now privacy in the consulting process.

 Student Financial Counseling Center

Students now have privacy in discussing their financial affairs with counselors like K'Vernice Madison Ford, at right.


   Instead of a snake line, students enter a Reception Center, to be greeted by receptionists who can tell them immediately how long a wait is ahead. (In fact, a student can observe the wait-time on entering the Franklin Building lobby, where a TV monitor displays it. The monitor also provides useful information about deadlines, directions--and may in the future have CNN news.)

After either signing in or swiping his/her PENNCard, the student is logged into an automated queuing system that keeps track of which student is next and which counselor is available, and notifies the student by monitor which "office" to go to. The same system alerts two key figures in the service: a Counselor is informed of the student's arrival, his school, estimated year of graduation, and any notes concerning a previous visit, and an Assistant Director is advised to be on standby for any questions arising about the financial aid package. The system monitors the wait-time for students so that additional counselors can be put into service if needed.

The counseling office is a complement to the admissions process, as prospective students decide if financial matters affecting attendance are manageable. The office also supports the relationship with schools whose concern for their students requires answers, which are accurate, complete, and in the students' best interest.

Besides handling student visits, Student Financial Services recognizes that administrators need to get through to help their students. The new telephone system has a special "administrators" hotline. Administrators may refer a student directly to a counselor, or to an Assistant Director or other appropriate staff member. (Ideally the administrator calls the "hotline" to say that a student is being sent. Student arriving with a referral but no appointment will be seen if possible, or can make an appointment to come back.)

To professionalize this service, SFS has restructured its staff and provided intense training in job content, customer service, and computer systems. Historical divisions between areas have been diminished or eliminated to create a "team" spirit and the staff is committed to learn, serve, and solve. It should be noted, however, that the goal to minimize referral is ambitious and will need time to mature. The SFS staff is anxious to fulfill this commitment and appreciates the cooperation and support from students and administrators needed to achieve it.

The need-based financial aid process is very complex, so we have not tried to integrate needs analysis with counseling per se. The new counselors will take each problem as far as possible, then turn it over to Assistant Directors who have authority to do needs analysis and packaging of awards. The offices are physically integrated to make this possible; and if a counselor has need of an AD during a discussion with a student, the counselor can seek out the student's assigned AD, or a "resource" AD if the problem can be solved on the spot. (If not, the counselor will make an appointment for the student.)

ADs for graduate and professional schools are assigned by school--not alphabetically as in the case of undergraduates--but the same integration with counselors is applied. SFS management offices are also within easy access for counselors, ADs, or even students.

Differences in the needs of graduate/ professional students and those of undergraduates were addressed in training counselors, as were differences in schools and programs. As the new plan proceeds, SFS will ask each school to send a representative to one of our staff meetings to discuss their programs and needs.

Each counselor and AD has a reference manual containing an enormous amount of information, which we hope can be made available soon on an SFS "intranet"--a new technology much like the Internet, except it is internal and can provide specific information and instructions for the complex functions of Student Financial Services.


Student Financial Services is part of the Finance Department, but the newly configured offices cut across reporting lines to deliver unified services to students.


SFS has an important relationship with the Registrar and serves the centralized Undergraduate Admissions office as well as school admissions and financial aid offices. In the case of the Registrar, joint development of Penn-In-Touch has led the way to discussions regarding the development of a student administrative service center, the use of PARIS for exit interview scheduling, and the possibility of the Student Financial Counseling Center ordering transcripts. It is logical that this alliance should continue and that joint planning become even more structured.

Penn Card

The Penn Card was located in Ryan mall at 40th and Locust. Although most students get their cards at CUPID, many cardholders, including dependents and employees, need a better location. It is natural for the Penn Card Center to be located in the Franklin Building, central to students as well as employees. Both students and staff view the Franklin Building as an administrative hub.

The Cashier

Because the Student Financial Counseling Center is expected to handle more complex and less transactional functions, all "transactions" will be handled by theCashier. A new computer system automates the cashier and provides on-line (and real-time) transaction capabilities. This enhancement will serve as the basis for the cashier's becoming the focus of all transactions including accepting payments for student accounts, disbursing refunds, disbursing loan checks, providing advances against credit balances, accepting deposits to debit accounts, and of course, accepting University receipts and giving travel advances.


The University Cashier (at left) plays an increased role in Student Financial Services. Students can now pick up their refund checks, endorse loan checks and pay their bills in one visit.


Penn In Touch (above) is a 24-hour operation, with its own entrance. A big plus for students, faculty and staff: a U.S. Post Office stamp machine.

Almanac, Vol. 45, No. 10, November 3, 1998