Erin Elliott is the student accounts manager in the business office at Tulsa Welding School, Jacksonville campus. Erin has been helping our students with their school finances for almost two years.
Before we get started, tell us how you got started in your career.
I started in medical accounting in New York. I was also a teacher’s assistant for special needs kids. That’s when I started the education part of my career. I really enjoyed that, so I was so happy when I found this job because I’m back in a school environment. I get to help and encourage students, in addition doing the accounting work that I love.
So what does a student accounts manager do?
I manage the students’ accounts with the school. So I hand out stipend checks to students who have an excess amount of money in their loan account. Maybe they took out a loan for more than they needed for tuition so they could cover living expenses while at school. Maybe their parents took out a Parent PLUS Loan to help them with rent, meals and travel. If they’re a 100% VA student, they may take out a PELL grant, which is money they don’t have to pay back to cover living expenses.
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I also collect payments from students. Whether they have in-school payments or not depends on how they are set up with financial aid*. If a student is set up with monthly in-school payments, I create weekly statements that instructors hand out so they know when a payment is due.
So are these payments for tuition?
Yes. If a student doesn’t qualify for as much financial aid as they need to cover the cost of the program, these payments cover the difference. It’s the amount not covered by any grants or loans they receive. Students in that situation are set up with $60 of in-school monthly payments, which are interest-free. They’ll have out-of-school payments once they’re done with school, which is when interest is added. The $60 is the minimum monthly payment. If they’re in a position to pay more each month, we encourage them to do that, as they are paying down the loan interest-free while they are in school.
How do they make these payments?
They pay me directly, or they pay online using the TuitionOptions website. Of course, I work very closely with them to make sure that they don’t stress out if they’re in a situation where they are unable to pay. Our goal is for them to get through to graduation. We will work with them any way we can. If they need to pay me $10 a week on their bill, then that’s what we’ll do.
Does every student have in-school payments?
No, not all students have in-school payments. If they get enough financial aid to cover the whole cost of their program, they won’t have payments to make while at school. It all depends on their situation with regard to financial aid and how they’re set up.
So what is your department called?
I work in the business office. Here in Jacksonville, it’s just my supervisor Lisa Bullock and I. Lisa is the regional director, she oversees the business offices at all our TWS campuses.
When does a student first meet you?
We introduce ourselves at orientation. Students who have in-school payments also have a $60 down payment they have to pay at orientation. So most students meet me on the day of orientation when they come in to make that down payment. That’s when they learn who I am and what I do.
What kind of access do students have to you?
I have an open door policy. I’m here from 8:30/9:00 a.m. until 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and I also come in on Fridays. I tell students to come in at any time and call me any time. Whatever they want to do, whatever is easier for them, we are here to help them.
What are some typical questions that students ask of you and your team?
“If I can’t pay this month, what do I do?”
“How long will you let me go without paying?”
“Can I pay so much a week?”
And how do you answer them?
I tell them that I’m not here to break them. We know a lot of them don’t have jobs. My job is to help students get through so they can graduate and get one of those great-paying jobs that we know are out there for welders. I tell them that if anything happens in their life, all they have to do is let me know.
I’ll do whatever I can to help them through it. I know it can be difficult to come up with $60 at a time, so I tell them if you just come in and pay $10 a week, I’m happy with that. They just have to put some sort of effort towards their account. We don’t want them to ignore the fact that they have these payments and don’t ever speak to me. I’m here to help them; I’m not here to say “Give me your money!”
What’s your favorite student story from your time at the Tulsa campus?
We just had a student graduate last month. He was a recovering heroin addict. He came in and just stole my heart. I wanted to cry when he was telling me his story. He started, had to re-phase, went back to rehab, and last month he finally graduated. He was so proud that he’d made it, and that he was 324 days clean. We can’t wait to hear back from him about how he’s doing and where he goes from here, because we were so happy he made it through.
What advice do you have for new students starting at Tulsa Welding School?
Communicate. It’s the same with any department, not just the business office. If they don’t let us know what’s going on, how can we help? That’s why I say that my door is always open. If you need to get something off your chest that has nothing to do with your account, I’m here to listen. We’re all here to listen and support you. If you have questions on anything, if I don’t know the answer, I’m going to go find it for you. We’re here to help you graduate, because if you work hard and get through these 10 phases, you’re going to have an amazing career!
*Financial aid is available to those who qualify.