Posted on Tuesday, April 4, 2017

INITIATIVE UPDATE: New FACA Tool Keeps Students On-Track

A new tool with a rather indelicate-sounding acronym has launched at all 23 of Virginia’s Community Colleges. The Financial Aid Course Audit tool, or FACA, ensures that our colleges comply with the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) Title IV regulations, which affect federal financial aid funds. The programs authorized under Title IV of the Higher Education Act are the major source of federal student aid. Colleges that participate in Title IV programs are required to ensure that funds are only applied to courses within the student’s program of study. Title IV programs include loans, grants (including Pell), and federal work-study. All state aid (including the Commonwealth Grant, VCCS Grant, PTAP, and the Virginia Guaranteed Assistance Program) are also impacted.

The FACA bolt-on solution to SIS automatically reviews whether a student’s courses are eligible for financial aid. If a student is registered for a course that is not in their program of study (i.e., needed to complete their degree or certificate), they will receive an automated notice stating that course is NOT eligible for aid. Therefore, any course they want to take that is not covered by financial aid must be paid for out of pocket, or the student will need to pick a course that IS required in their program of study to use financial aid.

Although not a new requirement, federal officials placed greater emphasis on compliance in recent years. According to Laurie Owens, VCCS’s director of financial aid, “In the past, this was a manual process, which was incredibly burdensome, especially because students add and drop classes all the time. Trying to keep up with that was difficult, and there was no out-of-the-box technology solution, until we found the FACA tool from HighPoint Technology Solutions. It integrates with PeopleSoft, which we already use, so that was a huge bonus.”

FACA rolled into production in late summer 2016. Last fall, eight colleges began using it. The rest rolled it out for the current spring semester. Getting to the rollout was a process in itself that required a tremendous amount of cross-departmental collaboration between academics, advising, financial aid, student records, and student financials/business office, as well as training, webinars, and supporting documentation provided by the System Office.

“There are so many benefits of FACA,” said Owens. “The compliance risk has been eliminated; the tool connects students with their advisors more than ever before because many students were self-advising; and it helps ensure students are on the path to completion. By only allowing them to pay for classes with financial aid that apply to their degree or certificate, they are not going to get off track. We see this as very much supporting the strategic plan. The bottom line is that FACA allows us to be better stewards of taxpayer dollars. Plus, the acronym is a lot of fun!”'

Laura Osberger

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