Behind the Scenes: How Does Financial Aid Differ at an Online College?

The financial aid office at any college can be a bustling place just before the start of a semester. However, in an online college environment things are a little different for students with no physical waiting lines to process financial aid paperwork.

Excelsior’s Financial Aid office handles student requests by phone, email, and a message center, all with a personal response. The office also handles benefits for more than 3,000 Veterans with an average processing of 7,200 claims.

At Excelsior College, the financial aid office currently has 16 employees with phone coverage to accommodate the different times zones of our student body. Things are also different because students can be half-time to full-time during semesters within the academic calendar. “We interact with students more than the traditional brick and mortar colleges,” explains Tom Dalton, assistance vice president of enrollment management. “Due to the needs of our students, we are in contact with them, on average, six times during the year.”

During the last year, the college provided $28 million in financial aid for 5,000 students with a large portion of our population using military tuition assistance. However, there is another way for students to save money. Excelsior College has a broader transfer acceptance policy than its peer institutions.

Among newly enrolled students, in the 2012-2013 academic year, the College accepted approximately 675,000 hours of undergraduate credit in transfer from faculty approved sources: other colleges and universities, credit-by-exam programs, and evaluated corporate and military training. Based on Excelsior’s undergraduate credit hour cost, the economic value of the credit it accepted in transfer for that year alone was approximately $262 million. Excelsior refers this number as the Knowledge Value Index.

For online colleges, financial aid fraud and academic integrity are two aspects with heightened awareness. Excelsior College has systems in place to ensure money is allocated properly and that students are who they claim to be. Dalton says, “We have a participation policy. We also don’t provide first disbursement of financial aid until three weeks into a term and offer students book vouchers. At the time of enrollment there is also student authentication through a variety of means.”

Excelsior is authorized to award Federal financial aid in all 54 U.S. jurisdictions to students taking the minimum number of credits in our 8- and 15-week courses that are offered each year during three 16-week terms (trimesters). The average age of our students is 38 and most are working adults so financial aid can be very helpful.


Looking for more information on financial aid? Join the Live Chat with Tom Dalton and Christina Roarke from Excelsior College’s Financial Aid Office on June 19from 7pm-8pm EST as they answer questions and explain the financial aid process. The Live Chat is convenient, and can be accessed right from your computer.

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