Software glitch freezes aid for thousands of students

$77 million has been distributed to about 12,500 of the 14,000 students who are supposed to get it.

Washington State University officials are still working to clean up a financial aid mess partially caused by the implementation of a new, multimillion-dollar student information software program called Zzusis.

The problem surfaced on the first day of school, Aug. 20, and prevented thousands of students from getting their financial aid. The software problem was fixed the next day, said university spokesman Darin Watkins, but by then officials already were behind.

Ten days into school, some students are still waiting.

“It’s like a superhighway,” Watkins said. “Even though you cleared the accident up on the side of the road, there’s still backup on the freeway for miles, and that’s what we’re facing right now. We’re still trying to untangle all the backup from the financial aid that was supposed to have been processed by the first day.”

So far, financial aid totaling $77 million has been distributed to about 12,500 of the 14,000 students who are supposed to get it, he said, adding it’s not unusual to have students sorting out financial aid issues into October for a variety of reasons.

In the meantime, Watkins said, the school offered short-term loans up to $2,000 with interest waived. WSU staff also have been calling and writing letters to landlords about individual students who can’t pay rent immediately but do have money coming. They also set up a phone bank to deal with the high volume of calls without pulling financial aid employees away from their posts.

The new software, Zzusis, uses Oracle’s PeopleSoft Campus Solutions software as its infrastructure, which was then customized for WSU. Watkins said Oracle consultants visited WSU after the financial aid fiasco. Oracle declined to comment.

“They’re looking at the systems to see if there are any suggestions or changes so we can make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Watkins said, adding that WSU did not have to pay the consultants in addition to the $15 million the software cost to begin with. “They came in on their own volition. They’ve got a vested interest in this as much as we do.”

The financial aid problems weren’t the only ones to arise since the Zzusis switch.

Some students weren’t recognized in the system. Some students were classified as out of state when they were supposed to be charged an in-state rate. Some transfer students’ credits weren’t transferred to the new system, and they were unenrolled from classes.