The Problem: Multiple Application Processes with Multiple Deadlines
The leadership at Mississippi State University (MSU) realized they had a problem with their scholarship application process: each scholarship had a different application and deadline. As a result, the process was confusing for students, which led to low applicant pools for many scholarship opportunities, especially among the individual colleges and departments. This is a common problem for larger, decentralized campuses. “The University wanted to improve communications with students and show them that it was easy to be a student at Mississippi State,” said Bailey Poindexter, MSU’s Donor Relations Coordinator.
At MSU, donor relations works together with financial aid, academic departments, and enrollment management to award private scholarships and ensure those funds are spent according to the donor’s wishes. Prior to AcademicWorks, communication amongst all of these groups was extremely challenging. Since many of the colleges and departments at MSU award these private scholarships individually, Poindexter is responsible for ensuring each completes the process correctly. Her counterparts in the admissions and scholarship departments manage the general academic and admissions scholarships.
The AcademicWorks Solution
The University chose AcademicWorks because of its flexibility. “Our departments did not have to make major changes to their existing processes with the implementation of AcademicWorks,” says Poindexter. “Each department is responsible for promoting scholarships, reviewing applications, and making the final awarding decisions,” says Poindexter. Along with departmental controls, the AcademicWorks platform offers the donor relations department oversight to ensure that endowed awards are made correctly.
Once awards are made, students must go into AcademicWorks to upload donor thank-you letters. “Currently, individual departments maintain their own requirements for what students need to include in the thank-you letter,” says Poindexter. Some departments require a handwritten note while others ask students for a typed letter. All communications are collected using the AcademicWorks Solution. She added that, “in the future, we would like to standardize the requirements for donor acknowledgements for quality assurance.”
Training is Key to Successful Implementation
As soon as AcademicWorks was selected, the President and Provost of the university immediately supported the initiative and mandated its use across all departments. Poindexter reported, “the unified front presented by the leadership of the university made the implementation run smoothly.”
To keep administrators engaged, Poindexter conducts a summer seminar to keep all users up-to- date on how to use the solution. The seminar ensures that everyone knows the correct way of doing things. To drive home the importance of using the platform, the President makes an appearance during the seminar to show his support.
“It is important to keep communications about processes and key point people consistent as you are onboarding and training administrators over time,” Poindexter notes. She provides a monthly checklist for administrators to ensure that they are staying abreast of AcademicWorks updates and that the scholarship process is moving forward on schedule.
After the seminar, Poindexter holds office hours for people to discuss process improvements or to ask questions. While Poindexter is available for questions if needed, each department is well-trained on the system. There is also a point of contact for AcademicWorks in eight academic colleges and departments, a satellite campus, and in the honors college. “The key to successfully implementing AcademicWorks on campus,” says Poindexter, “is communicating often and effectively with your colleagues across campus.”
To help stewardship efforts, fund and scholarship recipient information stored in AcademicWorks is shared with donors in the annual endowment report, which is sent just before winter break. Development officers also have view-only access to AcademicWorks. This allows officers to find thank-you letters and additional scholarship recipient information for donors, if needed.
Since the implementation of AcademicWorks, it is much easier to gather real-time information about departmental awarding progress within each awarding cycle. With critical awarding information so easily accessible in AcademicWorks, campus administrators can analyze awarding practices, such as the number of awards made to women and minorities.
Now, students and administrators better understand how the scholarship process works on campus. Adoption of AcademicWorks has resulted in an increase in applications and the campus is awarding more scholarship dollars with less effort. In the end, providing more educational funding opportunities to deserving students is what all the effort is about.
Simplify Scholarship Management
AcademicWorks is transforming the way Mississippi State University manages their scholarships. Please contact us to see how we can assist your campus.