Populi

Feature spotlight: Percentage-based financial aid awards


We recently added percentage-based aid awards to Financial Aid. These awards cover a certain percentage of a student's charges (as opposed to a set amount) and automatically calculate the appropriate amount for each student who receives that award. For example, you offer an award that covers 10% of tuition for full- and part-time grad students. One of your full-time students is invoiced $14,320 in tuition and a part-timer is charged $5,660. The award automatically calculates $1,432 for the first student and $566 for the second.

Specific instructions are, of course, readily at hand in the Knowledge Base article; but here's an overview of how to set up, offer, and disburse these awards...

The storyline

  1. You start an aid application for a student. The aid classification in the app includes COA categories.
  2. You offer a student the percentage-based award. Populi calculates an amount based on the COA categories.
  3. After the student accepts the award, the disbursements are calculated based on the offered amount and are then scheduled.
  4. The student enrolls and charges are invoiced. The award auto-calculates the final offered amount—and the disbursements—based on the invoiced amount.

Setup

Beyond setting up a percentage-based aid award type, most of the setup for these awards happens on the aid application side. You can either set up new items or modify existing ones to make sure they accommodate these awards.

  • COA Categories: You can direct an award to apply only to certain kinds of charges or let it cover a portion of all types of charges. For example, an award might be used to pay part of a student's tuition and fees. Use COA Categories to define the parts of an overall COA.
  • Aid Classifications: Include the relevant COA Categories and then enter the amounts. The figures here will be used to calculate the award's amount when you offer it to the student.
  • Award Types: Naturally, you'll want to set up a percentage-based award type. When adding the new award, check next to Percentage-based and then indicate the charge types (your COA Categories!) and the percentage this award will cover. (You can also set up an Aid Year Schedule for this award type while you're at it.)

The aid application process

Although it's not likely, you may end up modifying COA for individual students in their aid applications. Percentage awards are pegged to the amounts entered in an individual student's application, whether they were put in manually or inherited from an aid classification.

Packaging aid

When you offer a percentage-based award to a student, you'll do so just as you do for any other award type. If you've followed all the setup steps, Populi will automatically calculate an amount based on the numbers in the student's application. If you haven't set up all the items covered above, you can still offer an award, but you'll need to calculate the amount yourself.

In either case, the amount in an offered award is essentially a placeholder: the actual award amount will be based on what the student is invoiced. If you're including the award in an aid award letter, you should consider mentioning this.

Disbursing

Percentage-based awards are disbursed like any other award: via a disbursement batch. Although no special steps are necessary during the disbursement phase, you will want to pay attention to a few things before running the batch:

  • The disbursement amount will be calculated when term charges are invoiced.
  • Typical practice is to disburse aid after charges are invoiced. However, these steps may need to be reversed under certain circumstances. If you disburse a percentage-based award before charges are invoiced:
    • The amount will be based on what was offered, which you'll remember came from COA categories.
    • Should the invoiced amount ultimately differ from the offered amount, Populi will automatically generate either an additional disbursement (in case invoices exceed COA) or a refund-to-source (in case COA exceeds invoices). You'll have to run an additional batch to apply these to the student's account.
  • If need be, you can always manually-recalculate these awards on the Awards report or on Profile > Financial Aid.

Thus, percentage-based awards. If you have further questions about them, don't forget the Knowledge Base article; we're also happy to field your support requests.

The assignment duplicator

We recently released a new assignment duplicator for Populi courses. As the feature name suggests, it lets you create one or more duplicates of any existing assignment.

Say you assign weekly readings throughout a 20-week course, each one a grade-only assignment worth 10 points. You formerly had to create 20 identical assignments, muttering under your breath the entire time about repetitive motion injuries and wear-and-tear on your mouse. Well, we hate carpal tunnels and love to save you time, so we built the duplicator. Now you need only add one new assignment and then use the new feature to create 19 more copies.



To continue to save you time, we gave you a handy variable you can insert anywhere in the assignment name: if you enter, say, "Week {number:start=2} Reading", your new assignments will spill into your assignment list as Week 2 Reading, Week 3 Reading, and so on. Then you click Edit groups and assignments, enter the correct due dates, and then kick up your feet to read a nice academic paper or two.



That's just one scenario; there are, of course, many other ways the duplicator could come in handy! You can get all the details about the new feature in the Populi Knowledge Base or have a look at the video we made:

Improved Login Approvals

We just released a significant improvement to login approvals in Populi. Now, instead of using a passcode sent via text message to your smartphone, you can use an authenticator app on your smartphone to generate a temporary, one-time-use passcode to log in to Populi when a login approval is required. Here's how it works:

Install an authenticator app on your smartphone

Authenticator is one of those scary, five-syllable words nerds use to talk about something fairly simple: it helps you verify that you are, in fact, you when some cheeky computer asks about your identity. All an authenticator app does is generate a six-digit code that helps you do that.

Here are three apps we use around here and recommend to our users:

Set up your Populi login to use the app

Once the app is installed on your smartphone, it's time to get your login working with the new version of login approvals. There are a couple ways to get this ball rolling:

Login approvals in My Settings, Security
  • Click your picture in the upper right of the screen (in the black bar) and select Settings. Go to My Settings > Security and click the button under the Login Approvals heading—depending on your current setup, it might say Enable... or Upgrade.
  • If your school has newly required you to start using login approvals, you'll go through this setup process the next time you log in.

Setup itself is simple:

Setting up login approvals in Populi
  1. Populi will display a QR code on the screen.
  2. Open your authenticator app and use the add account function. Hold your smartphone camera up so it can see the QR code on your computer screen. Follow the prompts in your app to finish adding the account.
  3. Enter your Populi password.
  4. The app generates a six-digit verification code—enter it below the password.
  5. Click Next.
  6. Populi will generate a recovery code for you. This code lets you log in to Populi one time in case you lose access to your smartphone (and can't use a code from the authenticator app). Copy the recovery code and store it in a safe place.
  7. Click Done when you're finished.

Now, whenever you log in to Populi on a new device, just open the app and use the one-time passcode to complete your login. These apps generate a new passcode every 30 seconds or so, and your login will only use the current passcode.

Why'd we do this?

Populi's login approvals are a form of "two-factor authentication", which is probably the most significant improvement to user security in recent memory. It requires a second code (or factor)—usually a passcode sent via text message to a device that's located on your person somewhere (usually your smartphone) in order to log in to a website. So, while your password for a given site can be stolen in, say, a data breach, it's a lot harder to steal both a password AND your phone at the same time.

We used to rely on texting a passcode to your smartphone. The new method, as mentioned, requires a code generated by an authenticator app.

Why are we moving in this direction? The primary reason is that authenticator apps provide better security. The National Institute of Standards and Technology issued a guideline which discourages the use of SMS/text messages as a second factor. Companies like Google are transitioning away from SMS-based authentication, as well. In part, this is because hackers are sometimes able to convince phone companies to route SMS messages to their own phones.

Security is the main concern. But our users are equally on our minds. We've seen widespread carrier outages that affect thousands of our users—a few months ago, for one example, a carrier-who-will-remain-nameless flagged all of our SMS login approval codes as spam and didn’t deliver them. Many of our users were unable to log into Populi, leaving them out in the cold until the carrier resolved the issue on their end.

That kind of nonsense is totally unacceptable to us. We don't want our users' access to Populi to get blocked by an error at a phone company.

But since authenticator apps remain functional even when your phone carrier is having a bad day, they’re much more resilient. The only thing they depend on is whether your phone knows what time it is.

For now, text/SMS-based login approvals will still work for users who've already set them up. But that method will be sunsetted in July, 2021, at which time all users will need to use the authenticator app method. Anyone who's new to login approvals will only get the new, improved method.

Populi is committed to doing our best to help keep your data secure, and keeping up with shifting industry best practices is one way we do that. Sometimes these improvements require a bit of a learning curve, but we’re certain the new login approval process will make it easier for you to keep your information safe.

Merry Christmas and a Happy 2021 From Populi!

Merry Christmas From Populi

I can’t say I recall what the plan for the coming year was twelve months ago, but it’s probably safe to say 2020 did not go according to it. Instead, we had the distinct honor of assisting a multitude of you excellent people doing what was necessary to continue educating your students in the face of unexpected challenges. It’s been a privilege, and we want to thank you all for keeping us so busy this year.

As always, from everyone here to all of you who made 2020 a great year to work at Populi, we wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

P.S. More on this later, but in late 2019 we embarked on a project long dreamed of: a Populi headquarters built out specifically for us. We moved in a couple days ago. Here’s a little video we made to document moving day.

Importing a group of people in Contacts

The new Import People button in Contacts

We just released a new bulk Import People feature in Contacts. It lets you add groups of new people to Populi all at one time by uploading XLSX or CSV files. The importer will be a great help to admissions staff who need to enter large groups of leads from conferences, referral service purchases, and standardized tests. Here’s how it works:

In Contacts > People, you’ll see a big fat Import People button right next to Add New Person. Click that and upload your file to Populi; from thence you’ll be whisked to the column-mapping screen.

Mapping information from an upload to Populi’s fields

Mapping columns lets you choose where the information from your file will plug into Populi’s built-in and custom fields. Populi will automatically match the obvious stuff like “First Name”; you’ll decide how to map the other columns using the drop-downs, which contain options for Person-related (contact info, other info, custom fields) and Admissions-related fields (course of study, etc.). For example, you may have a spreadsheet of leads with a column for “Career Interest”, the options for which correspond to your own custom Admissions field “Area of Interest”. Link them using the drop-down, and Populi will pull that column’s data into that field for all the imported people. If you later upload a file with the same column headings, Populi will remember how you mapped things last time, making future imports preposterously simple.

The importer shows warnings if the file has bad data

Once you’re done mapping, you’ll have a chance to review the records. Populi will find potential problems and warn you about them—possible duplicates, information that can’t be imported—as well as reject records that can’t be imported (people with no first or last name, or bad data in those fields).

The import filter in Contacts

Once imported, you can easily find the group of new people by using the Import condition in Contacts and Admissions > Leads,

We’re pleased to get this out to our users—it’s gonna save a lot of people a lot of time. Have a look at the Populi help article for all the details on how it works.

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