Western Dakota Tech Cans Financial Aid Team; Director Cries Retribution for Accreditation Honesty

Hey, Southeast Technical Institute! Still wondering whom to can to cover your two-million-dollar deficit? Try Western Dakota Technical Institute’s solution: can your financial aid staff!

At Monday’s meeting, the Rapid City School Board axed WDTI’s three financial aid positions, as well as its library director. The Rapid City Journal reports that WDTI says consolidating positions so that the same people handle admissions, financial aid, and assessment will make life easier for students. Now-outgoing financial aid director Starla Russell says the consolidation is really retribution for honesty that put the school on accreditation probation:

“As you know, the school is in trouble,” Russell said to the Board during the public comment section of the meeting. “The probationary status is the mere outcome, in my belief, of a systemic problem at this school, and I do have a responsibility to speak up about it, so that you, as the governing board, can make an informed decision that’s beneficial for the students and the community.”

…“When the accreditation team came to campus last May,” Russell said, referring to the Higher Learning Commission team that assessed WDTI, “leadership preached that staff needed to be honest with this team.”

Russell said she and her office were forthcoming about the effectiveness of the school, though she would not elaborate on what those statements were. But the administration’s “demeanor” toward the financial aid department changed, Russell said, after the Higher Learning Commission announced its intention to place the school on probation.

“Meeting requests” with the president, Russell said, “went either unanswered, or she would not attend the meeting, leading to a reschedule to accommodate the president’s schedule, and still no show.”

[WDTI president Dr. Ann] Bolman said after the School Board meeting that it was Russell, not she, who didn’t reply to multiple requests for meetings [Mike Anderson, “WDTI Reorganization Causes Strife,” Rapid City Journal, 2016.04.12].

But Ms. Russell, your boss said in February that accreditation is irrelevant, so why on earth would she take so seriously comments that put that irrelevant accreditation in jeopardy?

The financial aid department does oversee the movement of a lot of money for a lot of students. I can understand the urge to consolidate functions—if staff can handle it, students will find it very convenient to discuss admissions questions and student loan and scholarship questions with the same person. However, getting rid of all three people who have handled those financial aid questions could create a knowledge gap that hinders service for current students. Those two-year students will turn over quickly, but a transition period or a redistribution of the staff cuts to keep at least one of the current financial aid people on the job might be wise.

By the way, Southeast Tech has four financial aid people: a director, two coordinators, and a secretary.


6 Responses to Western Dakota Tech Cans Financial Aid Team; Director Cries Retribution for Accreditation Honesty

  1. While I was at USD, i stopped by the Business Office to get some payroll paperwork cleared up. There were 11 staff members present; 5 of whom were playing solitaire on their computers. They ended up directing me to another part of campus.

    I don’t know if WDTI is the same, but there’s probably room for consolidation.

  2. Wayne B aren’t the business office and the financial aid office at USD in two separate offices? Ever been there during the start of the semester, those people are run ragged.

  3. Snaillady,

    I’m not certain they are separated. However, in all my time as an undergraduate student, graduate student, and employee at the university, I can’t for the life of me figure out what those folks in the business office do.

    I get that during peak demand times folks are being “run ragged” with the influx of students needing processing, but that’s a temporary, predictable, cyclical surge in customer demand. Good human resource management would call for getting all hands on deck for the fall and spring semester registration & processing, but using temp workers to do so. It isn’t as if there’s a paucity of smart, talented business majors in their 3rd or 4th year at the university able to get some real life experience with pushing paperwork at $10 / hour.

  4. Wayne, I don’t know USD, but I would suggest that perhaps the people playing solitaire on their computers may have been federal work-study students, who are essentially the ‘temporary/seasonal workers’ of clerical offices at universities. Work-study is cheap (part of their hourly pay is matched by the federal government) but also a semester-long commitment, so offices that need lots of help in, say, August, may be over-staffed in October (a student’s work-study position is part of their financial aid), and if the school requires individual departments to make the match at the start of a semester, then a business office sure as heck isn’t going to reallocate them for free to other offices in a university. (University administration is FUN.) I’d ask if they looked like students, but then I’ve known plenty of ‘non-traditional’ students on work-study, so… I don’t know.

  5. Kingleon, that’s a fair hypothesis.

    No one in the business office that day was under 35. I’d be hard pressed to believe they were all non-traditional students on work study.

    I don’t know what the “truth” is about the situation at USD’s business office. I don’t have a justified true belief that my anecdotal experience with USD is transferable to WDTI or other public administrative offices.

    I do have a suspicion that, given the rate of administrative expansion in the past decades, there’s probably room for efficiencies to be had.

  6. emmet kelley

    Southeast Tech Institute … new $20,000,000 building … declining enrollment …. looming $2,000,000 deficit … staff cuts inevitable … former Supt claims to have asked (asked?) current STI Director about enrollment projections going forward … Whaaat?