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By showing an example of a functional control as well as a dysfunctional control in the organization I work for as well as listing the criteria to correct this deficiency, this paper will not only shoe the effect not only the organization, but to myself professionally as well as personally.
A Look at Functional & Dysfunctional Controls in My Organization
As advances in technology and communication have made sharing and transferring information almost instantaneous, it has provided new opportunities for individuals who traditionally may have issues in furthering their educations because of time and convenience. As a Military Admissions Counselor at Ashford University, I am aware of the information of many of the university's students (this information includes their names, addresses, financial data, past academic information, etc.). However, I also do have to coordinate with representatives in other departments to better able assist the students I work with and while some of the processes may be functional; there are others that are dysfunctional for students as well as myself.
By explaining the strong functional control utilized with confidentiality and dysfunctional areas of financial aid communication, I will suggest criteria that could be utilized to avoid consequences to the university and my position as well as myself personally. This is extremely as I always strive to help the students I work with in achieving their educational goals.
Ashford University was founded in Clinton, IA in 1918 as a junior college by the name of Mount St. Clare College by the Sisters of St. Francis (a Roman Catholic order of sisters commonly referred to as "nuns"). Over the many years that followed, the size of the campus grew along with the programs offerings; in April 1979, the first baccalaureate degrees were offered and in May 2004 the first Masters Degree programs became available. In December 2002, a major step was taken in that Mount St. Clare College changed its name to The Franciscan University to signify its growth over the years.
In 2005, The Franciscan University was purchased by Bridgepoint Education and the name was changed to Ashford University. The goal of Bridgepoint Education is to provide affordable, quality education to individuals who may have difficulties with time and convenience in furthering their education. The main avenue that many of the students at Ashford University (along with the students at its sister school, University of the Rockies) utilize in furthering their education is through online learning (though classes are available at the physical campus in Clinton, IA).
What Ashford University Offers to Students
The online format at Ashford University consists of completing one five week course at a time (six weeks if you are a graduate student) and is continuous throughout a student's course of study; though students do have the option of taking up to a twenty-nine break between classes. The Attendance Policy is that students at minimum must log in to their classroom on two separate days per week or they will be dropped from class (though this only applies for the mandatory introductory course, after that a student can miss one week of class only). One convenience that is offered is that homework for all classes is available upfront allowing the student to turn work early (though students do have to still adhere to the Attendance Policy).
Another convenience offered to students is that they have all five weeks of homework available upfront for every class they take. Also, each class is structured in the same manner regarding due dates; all assignments due dates are the same for every class. These conveniences are important as they not only allow the students the ability to further their educations at their own pace; they also provide the university the control needed to provide a quality education.
My Role at Ashford University
My position at Ashford University is that of a Military Admissions Counselor; in that I work specifically with students who are military affiliated and is using military educational benefits (these include Active Duty Military, Reserve, National Guard, Spouses of the aforementioned named, Veterans with VA Education benefits and DOD employees). In my position, a portion of my daily responsibilities fall under the category of programmed decision making. As stated by Jones & George (160) "programmed decision making is a routine, virtually automatic process." An example of this is that I follow up request from potential students that submit request for information electronically. Once contact has been established with a potential student, I then ask a series of admissibility questions to determine if the potential student is qualified to attend Ashford University.
What follows depends on the time the potential student has available; either I will go into detail regarding the Timeline to Degree Completion, Online Classroom Format, Tuition/Fees, and Available Start Dates or schedule a later date to conduct this information review. After the potential student completes their enrollment application (thus becoming a probationary student until their official transcripts received and reviewed), I then provide students information on how to order their text books, as well schedule time them for to go through the classroom webinar that familiarizes them with the classroom. I also make sure they complete their financial documentation and receive it depending on the form of financing they choose.
As the student starts their first class, I also checks in to make sure students are meeting the minimum attendance requirements, answer any questions the student may have (or direct the student to the right source for those questions), and act as motivational support should a student feel overwhelmed. This is a position that I gain much satisfaction from as I have been in the place where many of the students I work with having served in the military myself. Because my position deals with military students specifically, I also have to be educated in and up to date with the workings of Active Military and VA Education benefits. I also have to have smooth, professional working relationships with all the departments at Ashford University so as to help ease a student's enrollment process with minimum difficulty.
In my position, I do notice many of the controls the University has in place to help maintain efficiency and protect both the student and the University. If I had to think of an excellent example of functional control and a control that is dysfunctional, I would say it would have to be the areas of student confidentiality and financial aid respectively. These areas that I come into contact with on a daily basis and effects the students and to a degree, myself.
Example of Functional Control
As stated by Jones & George (263) "control systems are formal target-setting, monitoring, evaluation, and feedback systems that provide managers with information about whether the organization's strategy and structure are working efficiently and effectively." In the area of confidentiality of students, I would say that this control measures that are in place work efficiently. The guiding principle that Ashford University uses in strategy of maintaining student confidentiality are what is laid out in FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act), a federal law designed to protect the academic records of all students in collegiate level schools that receive Title IV Funding (the source of government aid to most colleges and universities).
In discussing FERPA, Pitts (2010) FERPA "protects the privacy of student educational records, but does not protect directory information, which includes a student's name, address, telephone number, date and place of birth, honors and awards, and dates of attendance." As laid out by FERPA and Ashford University internal policy, I am unable to give out specific academic information such as a students GPA and courses taken without the written authorization of the student.
As part of the training for my position, I completed mandatory training to educate me on what information I can release regarding a student. Also each year, every employee of Ashford University, University of the Rockies, and Bridgepoint Education are required to take remedial training of FERPA guidelines no matter our positions, so as to be well versed and up to date in FERPA guidelines. The failure of an Ashford University employee (including myself) to comply with FERPA guidelines in regards to student records and information would result in many penalties including loss of Title IV funding and the employment of the offending employee.
Example of Dysfunctional Control
In going over controls that Ashford University utilizes in providing quality education to students, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the biggest dysfunctional control that I come across in my position, financial aid (particularly how students are educated in its intended uses, consequences of dropping a course after two weeks, and consequences on not paying it back). Typically the students I work with use military benefits such as Tuition Assistance and Veteran Education benefits. However, many military spouses and a significant portion of veterans utilize financial aid; either in the form of a Pell Grant, student loans, or most commonly a combination of both.
My position as a Military Admissions Counselor only allows me to relay basic information on the workings of financial aid (this includes maximum allowable amount for Pell Grants, the difference between Subsidized and Unsubsidized Student Loans, as well as timelines and criteria for paying back student loans). While many think this may be enough information to relay, it really is not. After a student is enrolled, they are followed by an assigned FSA (Financial Services Advisor) to assist with the preparation of paperwork and answer any questions relating to financing.
The dysfunction happens when students call me mentioning that they are showing balances on their accounts (even though they may be using VA funding among other forms), questions on when they will receive their check should they have excess funding, or that they cannot get ahold of their FSA. Sometime from the time I release them to their assigned FSA and by the end of their second class, there is a disconnect somewhere in the process on how a student is educated in how their financial aid process is supposed to work. This causes great frustration among many students; a portion of whom decided to drop out after their first or second class because of lack of clear communication.
Criteria Being Used to Fix Problem
The criteria that is being used by financial aid management and many upper level executives in the organization is the of feedback control. According to Jones & George (264), feedback control is "control that gives managers information about customers' reactions to goods and services so that corrective action can be taken if necessary." In this particular case, feedback is coming back in the form of students and internal employees such as myself. Many meetings have been held to address lag time in processing documents as well redundancies in the processing of students financial aid information. In particular to my area, because of feedback from many military students, FSA's are now required to be educated in military financing and policies have been put in place to provide exemptions in due dates for military personnel.
Because of feedback from students, many FSA's are now required to be more in depth with their notes in a student's file rather than just providing a date and time of contact and a short summary of the conversation. While these are definitely steps in the right direction, I would recommend going a step further and having it mandatory that a student participate in a webinar that details their particular financing choice so as to be able to ask questions early on in the process.
Effect on Myself Professionally and Personally
Because these changes affect me professionally and personally, the biggest feeling I get from the establishment of these criteria is relief. The relief comes in the form that I know that the students I work with and enroll are being properly taken care of in an area I have little control over. This affects me because like many of the students I work with, I was in the military myself and have worked professionally now for several years. No matter on which side of the fence a student is coming to me from, I've been there and I know how it feels to be taking a big step like furthering your education and the frustration of being delayed in that obstacle.
There have been many days I have come home at night often frustrated how I was unable to help a military student out because someone in financial aid was not properly doing their job. To be fair, I understand that FSA's do deal with larger pool of students that I do typically but at the same time, it is important to make sure students know what they are getting themselves into; especially students using Active Duty Military benefits (if they drop out or fail a class, they have to pay back the $750 cost of the class out of their paychecks).
By showing an example of a functional control and how a control has become dysfunctional in the view point of my role at Ashford University, I have shown that like many organizations, there is always room for improvement. In detailing the criteria used to fix this problem, it is shown that while it is a work in process; it is a step in the right direction. In the end, it is my goal along with that of Ashford University to provide quality education and to set the standard in online distance learning.