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Leatha Webster named financial aid chief

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by Jaclyn Roco
Editor in Chief

University of La Verne officials recently appointed Leatha Webster financial aid director, the position left behind by Mary Lindsey, who resigned last year. Previously hired as interim director, Webster was chosen to fill the position last month and officially took over Feb. 12, 2003.

Phil Hawkey, executive vice president, took charge of the financial aid department after Lindsey and Pat Coleman, director of enrollment services, resigned abruptly last year. He was also part of the committee, which included President Stephen Morgan, that officially hired Webster. Hawkey said Webster’s previous experience as ULV’s interim director allowed them to understand her style, knowledge and skills.

“She was most certainly the best person we talked to over a period of a couple of years,” Hawkey said. “She went through a long interview process, and we were very impressed.”

As director, Webster said she has a main goal to fulfill. Her focus in the department is to straighten the financial aid process and disbursement, she said. To do this, Webster plans to remove obstacles so students can receive money as quickly as possible.

One of Webster’s first improvements was to implement a financial aid adviser to be on call every day at the department’s counter in Woody Hall. The advisor’s job is to answer questions and to get issues resolved, she said.

Some ULV students said they hope Webster’s improvements will prevent often serious problems from occurring in the first place.

Junior Karla Pineda is just one out of many students who has experienced a problem that she said was financial aid’s fault. Pineda complained about being charged extra because the department had mistakenly placed her as a graduate student. She added that financial aid also failed to inform her of whether her grant had come in on time.

“They need to keep on top of things, to organize and to inform instead of giving us ‘Oh, you owe $15,000’ notices last minute,” Pineda said.

Other students have made even more dire complaints. The inability to pay on time, the chance of being kicked out of school and the fear of not being able to eat at Davenport are just some of the occurrences that have happened because, students claim, financial aid is not organized enough.

Senior Emily Tollefson said her former roommate, Audrey Rios, had a case that made her thankful that she never had to deal with financial aid.

Rios had to give up her residency at the Oaks partly because financial aid failed to set her payments and classes up on time, Tollefson said. As a result, Rios was forced to go home and can no longer attend school, she said.

Hawkey assures, however, that substantial improvements will be seen since Webster is now on the job. Although the improvements cannot be “instantaneous,” Hawkey said they will be “continuous.”

“Mrs. Webster is particularly concerned with simplifying the whole process giving good information in a timely process,” Hawkey said. “(She) has a lot of experience, and she is in the position to understand and to deal with complex issues.”

A major project of the financial aid department is converting the whole process into a new computer system known as Banner (now known as “My ULV Banner”).

As of now, the department is the only one in Woody Hall using the old computer system called Power Faids.

Hawkey said using the old program made work harder because everything had to be typed in manually. He said moving to Banner would mean more changes. Students will be able to receive immediate information about payments, and Student Accounts would be able to see how much financial aid students have.

“This will allow us to interface to one common computer system,” Hawkey said. “Information can flow back and forth to better serve the students.”

The conversion to Banner is just one step toward simplifying the department’s process, Webster said. Since enrollment, records and grades are all on this system, converting financial aid records to Banner would mean one, integrative system, she said.

Another change to occur through the next couple of years would be to put the department on the internet.

Allowing students to check the status of their financial aid on-line would prevent long lines, Hawkey said.

Webster said any changes to occur were all tied into her goal of making processes simpler.

Because her area of expertise is looking at systems, Webster said she will work with Hawkey to make sure improvements occur.

“I enjoy doing what we do,” she said. “I enjoy financial aid. We make a difference to assist students in receiving the dollars to complete their education. My goal is to make that process uneventful.”

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