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Financial Aid Worries

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Financial Aid Worries

Y2K problems could affect the economic lifeline of many students

WASHINGTON — Many of the nation’s colleges and universities have failed to show that they are prepared to deal with the year 2000 bug and students receiving financial aid may suffer because of it, a new report says.
Preliminary results of a U.S. Department of Education survey reveal that 46 percent of colleges do not have a written Y2K plan. Another 42 percent say they do not expect to complete year 2000 preparations until after this month.
“These early survey results raise a concern that a significant percentage of postsecondary institutions may be at risk for Y2K-related failures,” concludes a report by the inspector general’s office for the Education Department.
In addition, postsecondary institution participation in available test windows has been low, the 32-page report says. Only 15 schools participated in the first round of tests. Of those, only three of the schools passed the tests.
The ramifications that any Y2K failures will have on students who receive financial aid is hard to predict, says Steven A. McNamara, the assistant inspector general for audits with the Inspector General’s office.
“The impact would vary depending on how large and how complex the institution’s system is,” McNamara says. “In most cases, it will be hard to determine the integrity and the accuracy of the financial awards.”
Schools in states providing Y2K funding and setting compliance requirements may be better prepared to avoid failures and financial aid snafus.
At North Carolina A&T University, the financial aid systems are Y2K ready according to Renee Martin, director of administrative infromation systems and Y2K coordinator. In 1996 the Greensboro, N.C. school began its own systems assessment and in 1997 the state of North Carolina formed a Y2K management office, supplying detailed groundrules for state universities to meet Y2K compliance. Schools had to submit monthy progress reports to the state office.
“All of our mission critical systems are Y2K ready, meaning all of the preparations and all of the modifications have been done,” Martin says. She defines mission critical systems as including registration, admissions, financial aid, human resources, and payroll.
Morgan State University in Baltimore, another historically Black institution has had to comply with Maryland state-imposed Y2K regulations.
“We’ve had to meet certain milestones and file reports with our president,” says Gary Press, associate director of management information services at Morgan State. “I’d say were are about 90 to 95 percent of the way towards compliancy.”
Press says smaller private institutions may face the brunt of the Y2K problem because of lack of funding for appropriate testing and upgrades.
The report, submitted to U.S. House of Representatives and Senate committees, does praise the education agency for its extensive outreach efforts. Those have included “dear colleague” letters, conference exhibits, focus groups, surveys and a Y2K Web site at <www.ed.gov/offices/OCIO/year>.
“I think the department has done very good outreach,” McNamara says, adding that the department “has tests available that schools can use” to determine their Y2K readiness.
The report recommends that Education Department officials establish controls to ensure Y2K compliance. It says the department should:
Continue outreach activities to communicate Y2K issues and strategies to all sectors of the postsecondary education community.
Require all postsecondary institutions to test their data exchanges and ensure that all guaranty agencies successfully complete the required testing with the education agency.   



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