Joshua Ceballos/Investigative Editor
The glitch that caused 12,500 students to incorrectly get a text saying they owed money towards their tuition was caused by a human error in the automated messaging system, according to University Chief Financial Officer Kenneth Jessell.
Jessell told PantherNOW that $80 million in financial aid was supposed to be disbursed on Friday, Jan. 17, but the financial aid department asked that the disbursement be delayed. They had not yet finished each student’s financial aid package and needed more time.
The disbursement was delayed, but the University had to manually adjust each step the automated system that checks student accounts and texts them if they have a balance after financial aid goes out.
One of those steps didn’t get adjusted.
“All of these processes are fully automated. There are a lot of dependencies of the processes, they’re like dominoes,” said Jessell. “During manual adjustment processes, one of them configured incorrectly… so this created an error.”
The error caused financial aid to not post on several thousand student accounts, and thus the texts were sent that had students running to OneStop.
Jessell said that in conversation with Chief Information Officer Robert Grillo, the University has decided to put new contingencies in place to avoid this problem in the future.
“We’re going to put in an automated threshold,” Jessell said.
From now on, if the computer system recognizes an abnormal number of students with outstanding balances beyond a forecasted threshold, the system will flag it and not send out a message.
As for the confusion with the phone number that sent the messages not being a “348” number, Jessell said he will look into possibly making it a regular FIU number.
“The important thing for students to remember is that when we send out information to students via text, we never include a link,” he said.
Update 8:30 p.m.:
University Chief Financial Officer Kenneth Jessell released a statement regarding the message sent to students, saying they were never supposed to be sent.
“On Tuesday morning, about 12,500 students received notification that they would be impacted by a late fee due to non-payment of tuition and other fees. These messages were generated in error,” said Jessell in an email statement to PantherNOW.
Jessell said that students who got the message have since gotten an update explaining the error and that no classes would be dropped as a result of this.
“We regret the inconvenience and are working to make sure this does not happen again in the future,” he said.
Students in the OneStop Office were hectic and anxious today as they swarmed the lines after getting a text message saying their Spring 2020 tuition and fees were past due.
The text came from the phone number “786-592-4125,” and led some students to suspect that it was part of a scam because it did not come from FIU’s regular group of “305-348” numbers. The Division of IT has confirmed, however, that this message did come from the University.
“There are non-FIU numbers we use to verify students and employees, including the ‘786’ one,” said a spokesman for the Division of IT.
The popular University-centric Instagram page “FIUBarstool” posted about the text this morning saying it was a scam.
A glitch in the system led financial aid disbursements to not be shown on students’ My FIU pages, according to a recorded message on the Student Financials phone line.
“If your grants were disbursed and were not reflected on your student account, we had a technical issue. Continue to monitor your student account,” said the message.
Because the money was disbursed late, some students were hit with late fees and account holds that they knew nothing about, including junior art education student Clara McLellan
“I got an email saying none of my financial aid has gone through, and if nothing goes through today by 5 p.m., all my classes will get canceled,” said McLellan to PantherNOW.
McLellan said she was told by Student Financials they would resolve the issue by Wednesday, but her Canvas account may be down until then, so she won’t be able to access her classes.
“I have assignments due,” she said.
Junior art student Tara Remmen was also waiting in the financial aid line in the Student Academic Success Center and was told her aid was late as well.
“The due date for tuition was January 14. I was hit with a late fee because they were late disbursing financial aid. Today I got a text saying I had outstanding fees,” said Remmen.
Remmen said employees from Student Financial Services told her this was due to a glitch, but that her account was actually fine and she didn’t owe any money.
Officials in the OneStop financial aid said that there was an issue, but couldn’t comment further except through Media Relations.