Thursday, November 23

Student Financial Services overpayment error fixed, with most of funds recovered

UCLA’s Student Financial Services has recovered almost all of the about $27 million in duplicate financial aid distributed to more than 7,000 students last week.

Nearly all of the students who received duplicate payments have sent the funds back, but $85,000 still needs to be recovered.

Student Financial Services is currently working individually with fewer than 50 students to reverse the error, said Allison Baird-James, associate vice chancellor for corporate financial services and the campus controller.

This is the first time in recent memory an error like this has occurred, Baird-James said.

At the beginning of each quarter, the university deposits excess funds for many financial aid and scholarship recipients directly into their bank accounts. This payment is the amount of money from financial aid and scholarships remaining after tuition and fees have been paid.

On March 26, Student Financial Services processed the excess funds smoothly, Baird-James said. The next day, however, a systemic error led to a duplicate deposit into many students’ bank accounts.

The overpayments occurred through the automatic refunding system portion in the CASHNet system. The automatic refunding element of CASHNet was installed in January.

The error occurred when CASHNet failed to communicate properly with a separate student billing and account system, Baird-James said.

“It was a problem with the timing and the way the two systems communicated with each other,” Baird-James said.

Belem Lamas, a third-year political science student, said she panicked when she checked her bank account to see she had been overpaid in financial aid.

When she found the error on March 28, she called the Financial Aid Office, fearing that her classes would be dropped since the duplicate refund had also resulted in a due balance on her BAR account. But she was told this would not be the case.

In an email sent to affected students on March 29, Student Financial Services stated that students’ fees had been paid and classes would not be dropped as a result of the error.

Students received one of two versions of the email. The first thanked students who had already returned the duplicate payment. The second urged students to monitor their bank accounts to ensure the fund reversal was carried out properly.

Steve Ritea, a UCLA spokesman, said neither he nor Baird-James could give specifics on the logistics of the error for security reasons, because the system is important in handling student funds and transactions.

The university is looking internally to ensure the error does not happen again, Baird-James said. This involves implementing checks and balances to make sure the timing between CASHNet and the separate student billing and account system is synchronized.

Belem said the process of paying the funds back went smoothly, and she didn’t have problems. The incident was mainly an inconvenience for students, Baird-James said.

“It added a wrinkle to spring break that wasn’t intended.” Baird-James said.

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