University of Mary Washington: Automating Banner with JAMS

About the Institution

The University of Mary Washington (UMW) is a selective, public institution in Virginia with nearly 4,600 students in 60 programs of study. Each year, the University of Mary Washington financial aid department processes about 6,000 FAFSA applications and administers almost $57 million in financial assistance.

The Challenges

The University of Mary Washington is a long-time Banner user, leveraging the software since the 2005 SunGard era. In early 2014, the University made the decision to move from a system with no tuition discounting program to a Ruffalo Noel Levitz (RNL) net tuition model, a matrix composed of academic ratings and EFC bands. Within the matrix, 55 cells represent the specific gift aid percentages that must be met with institutional, federal, and state money. After one year of manually packaging aid under the RNL Matrix, the University decided it was time to better leverage their Banner installation. Aid packaging logic for each group in the RNL Matrix was configured as a series of individual Banner processes, but running each of those processes was still a time-consuming manual task.

Heidi Hunter-Goldsworthy, Director of Financial Aid, identified early on that more could be done:

What we had was a person spending 8 to 10 hours a day running processes, which was an extreme waste of time. In addition to that, the processes were left open to human error.

Increasing staff was not a possibility for the University, so increasing efficiency was paramount. To identify possible areas of improvement in Banner utilization, the University contracted Ellucian to perform business process modeling (BPM) on their Banner use.

The BPM found that Mary Washington needed to automate their Banner processes. Ellucian suggested the University use an automation tool Banner had a partnership agreement with, but there were problems, “I think the initial cost was $150,000 to $200,000, and that was not going to happen,” said Hunter-Goldsworthy. “That wasn’t even a remote possibility for this institution; so, I had to find something that worked well, was flexible, had good customer service, and that the University was willing to write the check for.

The Solution

The University of Mary Washington knew it needed to automate Banner processes, and it knew that the scheduler needed to work well, be flexible, offer good customer service, and be reasonably priced. JAMS fit their needs perfectly.

The University now leverages the robust scheduling capabilities in JAMS to automate packaging and tracking processes for the 55 packaging groups in each student class. Prior to JAMS, it could take a full week to run just one ISIR load import through the matrix. Now, in their 4th year with the Ruffalo Noel Levitz matrix, the University is seamlessly running aid processing through 120 packaging groups with JAMS. “Every one of those packaging groups is a Banner process, so it keeps running over and over again. A human used to trigger those every single time,” remarked Heidi Hunter-Goldsworthy. “JAMS takes the entire packaging process and moves it onto one system. It starts with the ISIR load import, and works it all the way through to the end where it creates our letter file and puts it out there for us to print letters. That whole process now only takes about 20 minutes for every ISIR file that comes in.” JAMS keeps the ISIR loads moving through hundreds of decision points within the matrix, to reach a 20-minute processing time. With JAMS automation, Mary Washington imports and processes ISIR loads daily instead of weekly. By automating Banner processing, JAMS has reduced the time it takes to import ISIR loads and process aid packages from 10 hours a day to 8 hours a week.

The University knows that automating financial aid packaging with JAMS only scratches the surface of the solution’s capabilities. JAMS has increased ISIR load processing and financial aid distribution efficiency by orders of magnitude, and users at Mary Washington have taken notice. “Other departments have designs on what we’re doing,” says Hunter-Goldsworthy. “We’re going to be moving the disbursement process into JAMS, and the transmission of records, the creation of refunds. The admissions department is going to automate their offer letters…Eventually, the registrar’s office wants to use JAMS for grade review. By leveraging JAMS, we will save our staff a lot of time.”

The software’s ease of use and the quality of JAMS customer service was evident from the start. Andrew Quinn, Senior Assistant Director of Banner Systems and the University’s primary JAMS user, had no experience with scheduling software prior to JAMS but found it to be straightforward. “[Support] has been very patient” Andrew commented, “They set up online meetings where I can share my screen and walk through the questions I had. The issues have been very minute, just small things that we’ve missed, but it has just been excellent customer service.” Andrew also knows he can rely on JAMS to notify him when something goes wrong. “If one of our processes fails, we’ve got it set up to notify me through e-mail, and that way I can go in and take a look.” JAMS has transformed Mary Washington from a University that performs packaging to a University that monitors automated processes.

The Benefits

The University of Mary Washington leverages native JAMS notifications to track errors and failures. Any job that needs human intervention automatically sends a preconfigured email, and it’s all completely auditable. “There’s no room for questions in that process. We’ve removed the human element from packaging.” Heidi noted that JAMS also simplifies audits for the University. “We can pull a JAMS process for auditors and they can see it run through every step. Every five years, they come over and pull hundreds of files, and double check student aid. Now, they’ll come over and we’ll pull electronic records for them. They’re not looking for human errors anymore; they’re looking for standardized operating procedures. That makes them happy.”

JAMS has given the University confidence that they have an automation solution now and for the future. Financial aid professionals at Mary Washington and other institutions know all too well that financial aid can change suddenly. With JAMS, the University has a flexible automation solution that can remain viable even when processes and regulations change. As Heidi Hunter-Goldsworthy said, “We can change Banner and keep information moving through the office without having to worry whether somebody is out sick, or if we have meetings. Processes are just running automatically for us with JAMS in place.”

What does UMW get with JAMS?
  • Elimination of manual processing
  • Streamlined audits
  • Shortened student response time for awards
  • Optimize ISIR load processing frequency
  • Reduced risk of human error
  • Automated packaging for thousands of FAFSAs
  • Immediate gains in staff efficiency

Automating Banner with JAMS has provided the University of Mary Washington a competitive advantage over peer universities. “It’s about being competitive with aid and getting your offer out first, and then everyone else has to be matched against that. To date [the beginning of March], we’ve probably had 2,500 to 3,000 FAFSAs that have come in for next year, and they’re already packaged. We already have our award letters out. We’ve had them out since the fall.” With the efficiency of JAMS automation, the University of Mary Washington gets decisions before competing universities have finished processing aid packages.

With Banner processes automated in JAMS, the University of Mary Washington has increased staff efficiency and improved the student enrollment process, all while laying a solid foundation for years of growth and change.