President and CEO
Funding the future
College Foundation Inc. targets financial aid disbursements with SAS®
Every student deserves a chance to go to college. In North Carolina, that sentiment is a mantra. Research shows that people who study at a post-secondary institution, even if they don't earn a degree, will earn up to 17 percent more income annually than people with only a high school diploma. The North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority and the College Foundation Inc. - a partnership that administers student grants and loans – believe that higher education provides economic benefits to both the students and the state.
Administering a loan portfolio of more than US$3.3 billion, as well as the state's college grant and tax-advantaged savings programs, the College Foundation Inc. of North Carolina (CFNC) is a free service that helps students plan, apply and pay for college on behalf of the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority (NCSEAA). CFNC is using SAS® Business Analytics – for data management, analysis and reporting – to help ensure that financial aid gets delivered to the right schools and to the right people in a timely way, while ensuring strict accountability for annual expenditures.
"We provide advice to policymakers and schools, and they frequently ask us for information," says Steve Brooks, Executive Director of NCSEAA. "We began to get more and more ad hoc requests for information from them, including what-if scenarios, which increased our demands upon the College Foundation for reports. At the time, the pressure was on their IT team to write and run the queries, but those resources didn't have the knowledge of how financial aid programs work, nor the resource capacity to provide the information rapidly. The College Foundation management team, whose members understand the way that financial aid programs work, needed a system to address the queries directly and run reports. I couldn't be more pleased with the quality of data we now get from them, and the ability of the management team to deliver information promptly and accurately to support policy recommendations – it's been a great tool."
"The results have been phenomenal and we've reduced our expenses, allowing high-value IT resources to focus on what they do best, while putting information delivery into the hands of the right people."
"Before SAS, it was taking two to five days to provide information. In some cases, unfortunately, the accuracy was less than it needed to be," says Jim Avett, President and CEO of CFNC. "Today, most ad hoc reports go out within a few hours and are accurate. The results have been phenomenal and we've reduced our expenses, allowing high-value IT resources to focus on what they do best, while putting information delivery into the hands of the right people."
According to Brooks, the use of SAS Business Analytics has significantly increased the efficiency of delivering information that supports policy decisions and program administration, and it has improved the level of confidence in the forecasts that help determine how much money will be needed annually to fund the state's financial aid programs.
"Every dollar you don't spend denies someone an opportunity," says Brooks. "You don't want to overspend nor underspend. SAS has helped us forecast the demand and flow of funds from one year to the next. We are in a much better position when we tell the General Assembly how much aid students will need in the coming year. A lot of decisions over the years have been educated guesses – we're much more precise now."
In the future, the NCSEAA and CFNC say they plan to use SAS to help ensure student loans are paid back on time, by predicting which people are likely to have difficulty paying back a loan and targeting the right resources to help them avoid loan default.
"One of our roles has been to keep default rates as low as we can," Brooks explains. "And we're very proud that our default rate is less that 3 percent in North Carolina, compared with the national rate of 6 percent."In addition to the business benefits CFNC is deriving from the SAS solution, Avett says he was impressed with the implementation process performed by SAS and its partner Zencos.
"We had no prior SAS experience and were dependent on them to help us determine the right solution and the right partners to work with on the implementation," explains Avett. "SAS came in and looked at the data and suggested things we could do with it, which was very helpful. Not only did we get a product that could help us, but we got an organization that helped us understand what we might do. We're very pleased – on many levels. SAS managed the whole project and brought in its partner Zencos. It was an extremely smooth process, and we were comfortable that the deadlines were going to be met and that we would have a solution up and running within our desired time frame."
Need for better data management, to respond to ad hoc requests more promptly, and to provide funding forecasts for financial aid programs.
Guarantees financial aid available for students when they need it, supports accountability for annual spending, decreases turnaround time for ad hoc requests from days to hours, helps General Assembly make wiser decisions relating to student financial aid.