A Dynamic Duo – Rules and Exception Reporting

In my experience working on technical projects for our school clients, I’ve observed that rule development and exception reporting are two areas of automation that frequently are not maximized.

Most financial aid management (FAM) systems have a means of developing logic-based rules to fit the school’s model. Rules may not be able to capture all the nuances in student aid eligibility; but they can be made flexible enough to capture the vast majority of circumstances. This is where exploiting exception reports comes into play.

The two features, rule development and exception reports, work best in tandem. While exception reports are helpful (even in isolation) for catching errors and items that slip through the cracks, they’re most effective when used for analyzing patterns and determining how to incorporate those patterns into the rule logic.

As an example, let’s say a school uses the baseline rules in its FAM system for matching Institutional Student Information Records (ISIRs) in the data load process, and they find a particularly high number of unmatched records for returning students requiring manual review. Unmatched records create two main problems: increased processing time and risk of creating duplicate records. After analyzing the data, the school finds a significant number of students who were married during their academic career and had a last name change. In response, the school expands its rule definitions for matching ISIRs to existing records when there is a different last name. By including additional data fields in the rules—such as street address, city, state, email address, and telephone number—records that previously would have been unmatched were loaded without requiring manual review. The result? A reduction in overall processing time and creation of duplicate records. Whenever possible, it is best to reduce the risk of human error; strongly developed rules in a school’s FAM system can help toward accomplishing this goal.

Often in the financial aid community we spend more time putting out fires then preventing them. Schools would benefit by allocating time for internal auditing and assessment to ask the tough questions and identify areas of weakness in their use of rules and reporting. By using exception reports as a tool for rule enhancement (not just for catching errors), and by developing robust rules for their FAM system, schools can streamline and enhance their financial aid processing.

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