Tag Archives: Bursar’s Office

Welcome, Michael Oakley!

By Thom Ruby

The Bursar’s Office is happy to announce that  after an extensive and comprehensive search, Michael Oakley has been  appointed  the Assistant Director position because of his work experience and enthusiasm. Michael began working at Towson on February 13, 2013. Michael comes to Towson from Lincoln College of Technology, where he held the position of Director of Financial Aid. Oakley is a native of North Carolina, where he attended college at East Carolina University as an Economics major and Business minor.

As the Assistant Director, Michael will lead the daily operations of the customer service and business units of the Bursar’s Office.  Among other duties, Michael will help develop short and long term goals and initiatives for the Bursar’s Office while working with Thom Ruby (Director) and Laurie Jones (Associate Director for Bursar IT). Oakley also will develop and implement various innovative business services and features for TU’s student and parent clientele.

The Bursar’s Office Associates and Supervisors are very excited about Michael joining the Bursar’s Office. He is in the process of meeting the members of the organization and obtaining instructions on how to navigate PeopleSoft Financials and Student Financials.

“I know we have hired an outstanding [and the best] candidate for the [very] important position of Assistant Director of the Bursar’s Office,” Thom Ruby  said enthusiastically.

Thom Ruby will  introduce Michael to members of the University and the Division during orientation tours of the campus.

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Eliminating Long Lines at the Bursar’s Office

by Keving McKenna

It’s 8:30 on a rainy morning in August, a week before fall classes are set to begin.  The third floor hallway in the Enrollment Services Building is filled with students lined up from one end of the hall to the other, many of them soaking wet from the rain.  What has so many students gathered in one place at such a relatively early time of the day, in spite of the inclement weather?  One of our planet’s greatest motivators, of course: money.

That was the scene last August on the fall semester’s first day of financial aid rebate check disbursement, a scene that is likely to repeat itself in just a few weeks (hopefully minus the rain), because it repeats itself every August and January.  By the end of the day, the Bursar’s Office had distributed over 1,000 rebate checks.  Over the course of each school year, the Bursar’s Office disburses more than 20,000 such checks; some of these checks are mailed to students at their request, but the vast majority are handed out in person at the Bursar’s Office.

However, that may all be changing soon.  For the past few months, the Bursar’s Office management team has been looking into making the rebate check disbursement process electronic.  We are pursuing a model that will enable students to either continue receiving paper checks in the mail or have their financial aid rebate funds electronically transferred into their bank account.  If they choose the latter the switch would be simple.  All students would need to do is visit a secure website, consent to receiving their rebates electronically, and enter their bank account information.

We are targeting implementation of the electronic disbursement for no later than the beginning of the 2013-14 school year, with the possibility of having it in place for some portion of the 2012-13 school year.  It is something that many other schools – including several of our fellow USM institutions – are already doing.  Once we begin marketing the program, we are hopeful that students will opt to receive their money electronically, since that method will give them access to their funds sooner and save them a trip to the bank to deposit their check.  Either way, the long lines of August and January will soon be a thing of the past at the Bursar’s Office.

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Meet the Staff: Thom Ruby

By Sherry McKendry

When you were a kid, what did you want to be?  If anyone asked young Thom Ruby what he wanted to be when he grew up, he would reply, “A history teacher!” because of his love of the subject, especially the American Civil War.  A check of salaries for this profession, however, led him to major in health care management at University of Maryland, Baltimore.  Working his senior year at Johns Hopkins University’s Cancer Center led to a full-time job in administration, a challenging position given that he worked with both patients and their families.  

Citing a form of burnout at JHU, he started “career shopping” and landed a job at Towson in 1979 as assistant director of Auxiliary Services, overseeing revenue-producing contracts with vendors and food providers.  Thom then held positions of successively more responsibility, from the Director of Events & Conference Services to the University Union Director for the next five years. 

Following more staff changes, Thom became the Associate Vice President for Auxiliary for another couple of years, but it wasn’t until he was appointed to his current position of Director of the Bursar’s Office that he found the home that’s been his for the last 18 years. 

Thom Ruby

Constantly looking to improve customer service and save money through technology, Thom initiated an “eBill” program, which provides a payment gateway for electronic check payments of tuition remission and other invoices for students or their parents.  By eliminating credit card payments, the university realized more than a million dollars in merchant fees! 

A new goal is to establish an in-house tuition deferred program that is due to roll out in fall 2013.  Students and parents will be able to spread payment for the semester’s fee over a more manageable 5 month period instead of the single lump cost at the start of each semester.  Can’t you just hear parents all over breathing a sigh of relief?  

One other program Thom plans to automate is the 1098 tax form that is sent to each student annually.  Electronic delivery will eliminate the costs of paper and postage for TU. 

In addition to all of the job titles Thom has collected at TU, he also proudly wears the title of “Dad.”  His daughter Shelby is a gerontology major and Thom plans to be her first case.   Other titles he’d like to add are “international traveler” and “sailor,” since he dreams of sailing down the Intracoastal Waterway from the Chesapeake Bay to Key West.  His love of the water is the reason he joined the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary where he performs vessel safety checks, provides educational programs and patrols the local waters to ensure boater’s safety. 

Safety and training are part of Thom’s responsibility with another group he works with, that of S.A.F.E. Management, an organization that provides stadium security for the Baltimore Ravens.   Having attended eight Super Bowls, Thom’s experience with customer service and safety is the basis of his training program for new S.A.F.E.  staff.

Finally, there is one more title Thom carries with pride.  Years ago, while observing shopping mall Santas interact with young children, he noticed the long tiring lines that families endured to have their children talk to “Santa” and have quick photos taken of the event.   Thom realized that an unhurried visit with Santa would be a much more pleasant experience in a child’s home environment, with personal information on hand relating to each child. 

That was the beginning of Santas Visits R Us, with Thom in the starring role.  So convincing is Thom in his role that last year when a father thanked him for “his show” the mother punched the father’s arm and declared, “That wasn’t a show!  He’s Santa Claus!”  Now, that’s an impressive job title.

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Cake at 10:30 in the Morning? Yep, That’s the Bursar’s Office.

By Kevin McKenna

One morning last week, I was sitting in my office when someone on my staff came to my door.  “It’s time for cake,” she whispered.  I peered at the clock on my computer… 10:30 a.m.  OK, I thought to myself, such is life in the Bursar’s Office.  So I joined my colleagues, sang “Happy Birthday” to one of them, and ate chocolate cake (in this case, with chocolate ice cream to boot) – all at around 10:30 in the morning.

The timing isn’t always the same – usually it’s closer to lunchtime – but this is how we celebrate the birthday of every Bursar employee who wishes to be celebrated.  It’s part of what makes working in the Bursar’s Office such an enjoyable experience.  We certainly have our fair share of stressful moments; speaking with students and their parents about financial matters can often prove quite challenging. But we try to balance that with some fun times that give us at least a few minutes to relax and come together as a group.

In addition to the birthday celebrations, our office coordinates Purple Fridays, Black and Gold Fridays, and even the occasional Orange and Black Friday, in the hopes that a certain local sports team finally snaps out of its 14-year doldrums.  We also have seasonal lunch parties such as an “Unofficial Start of Summer” party in late May, a “Welcome to Fall/Start of Football Season” party in September, a holiday party in December, and coming very soon, a “Welcome to Spring/Start of Baseball Season” party.

I’m sure our office is not unique in our desire to occasionally blow off some steam and build some camaraderie.  But our approach is sometimes a little unorthodox.

By the way, as I type this it’s approaching 10:30am on my birthday.  I wonder when someone will be coming to my door this morning…

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Bursar Streamlines Alternative Loan Process, Saving Time and Frustration for Both Students and Staff

By Kevin McKenna

Approximately 66% of TU students receive some sort of financial aid.  For most, this aid comes in the form of loans and/or grants from the federal or state government.  However, some students do not qualify for any governmental aid, or they qualify for an amount insufficient to meet their financial need.  Many of these students are compelled to find an alternative source of funds and turn to the private sector for a loan.

These so-called “alternative loans” – loans from a non-governmental source, such as a bank – have traditionally been a headache for the Bursar’s Office, as well for students.  Up until this school year, alternative loan funds were disbursed from lenders to TU via paper checks.  The vast majority of these checks were made out to both TU and the student taking out the loan.  This meant that the Bursar’s Office needed to contact every student, often more than once, when an alternative loan check arrived for them, because the check could not be deposited and credited to the student’s university account until the student came to the Bursar’s Office and endorsed it.  TU was receiving nearly 2,000 alternative loan checks each school year, so this created a tremendous amount of work for the Bursar staff and inconvenienced a fairly large swath of TU’s student population.

But this all changed last summer.

That is when the Bursar’s Office, the Financial Aid Office, and representatives from Financial Services collaborated to get the university up and running with ELM Resources.  ELM (Education Loan Management) serves as an intermediary between alternative loan providers and universities, providing an electronic platform through which loan information and funds can be transmitted.  Best of all, it’s free to the universities that use it!

Almost all alternative loan providers use ELM to work with universities, allowing TU to reduce the number of alternative loan checks it receives by over 90%.  So, the Bursar’s Office no longer needs to contact all those students and hold on to their checks until they come to endorse them. The students have their loan funds posted to their accounts quickly, without having to visit the Bursar’s Office.  As soon as TU receives funds from ELM, the Financial Aid Office disburses the funds to students’ accounts electronically!

This is what we in the Bursar’s Office call a “win-win” for both university staff and students.  It is also an excellent example of collaborative efforts among university departments bringing about positive results for TU.

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Spotlight on the Bursar’s Office

Department name: Bursar’s Office

Location: Enrollment Services

Director: Thom Ruby

What they do: The Bursar’s Office is the central hub for student billing and payment, financial aid rebate disbursement, account adjustment, collections and research. In the past fiscal year, their 21 employees prepared more than 110,000 eBills and monthly statements and disbursed more than 23,000 financial aid rebate checks, totaling more than $57 million. Whether they’re processing alternative loans or handling private scholarships, the Bursar’s Office makes sure that students receive the funding they’re promised and the university obtains the funds it needs to operate efficiently.

Recently Completed Projects:

  • Replaced paper bills with electronic “eBills” for all student billing statements, saving the university tens of thousands of dollars in printing and mailing costs each year.
  • Transitioned to a third-party vendor credit card payments system which increased payment security and reduced the university’s processing costs by nearly a million dollars per year.
  • Coordinated with a new vendor to offer deferred payment plans to students for the summer trimester, supplementing the existing plans already in place for the fall and spring semesters.

Current Initiatives:

  • Partnering with the Financial Aid Office to automate the alternative loan process so that funds from lenders are sent via electronic fund transfer instead of paper checks. This will expedite the process of posting the funds to student accounts and eliminate the need for students to endorse checks in person at the Bursar’s Office.
  • Creating a campaign to improve communication about the university’s billing and payment processes with incoming freshman and transfer students, as well as their parents.
  • Exploring possible billing changes to the CCBC/TU Transition Program, including combining the two bills—one from CCBC and one from TU—currently distributed to students into one comprehensive bill.
  • Developing and testing systems to allow automated loads of Auxiliary Services fines and charges for smoking, book rentals, and Tiger Reels to be placed on student and faculty/staff accounts.
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