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Archive for Thursday, December 1, 2011

Town Talk: Student financial aid company moving to N. Lawrence, may add 100 jobs; Masonic Temple project on the ropes; Eudora to host Christmas extravganza

December 1, 2011

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News and notes from around town:

Several weeks ago we told you to keep an eye open for a call center to move into North Lawrence’s I-70 Business Center and add about 70 jobs. Well, now we have more news on the project, and it is better than expected. Lawrence’s Student Financial Aid Services Inc. has confirmed that it is moving into the center and could be adding as many as 105 new jobs in the near term.

Student Financial Aid Services has been based out of the Golf Course Superintendents Association building in West Lawrence. But the company’s business has been growing — the company started in Lawrence with eight employees and currently has 70. This move — which is expected to be completed next week — allows the company to triple its space.

The company specializes in providing financial planning and assistance for students and families that are seeking financial aid for college or post-secondary education. The company is a subsidiary of a larger financial aid services company, The Rezolve Group. The local operations are run by longtime Lawrence resident Aaron Detwiler.

The company plans to hire for four types of positions as part of its expansion:

  1. Student aid advisers who respond to inbound calls from existing clients who need assistance in preparing for financial aid assistance.
  2. Student aid sales specialists who handle inbound calls from first-time clients inquiring about the company’s services.
  3. Service center supervisors who manage teams of about 15 to 20 advisers.
  4. A variety of positions in marketing, human resources, training and quality assurance.

The company plans on having an on-site job fair during the first quarter of next year. People interested in applying for positions can contact the company at lbrown@sfas.com.

• Folks who are hoping to see a renovation of the historic Masonic Temple in Downtown Lawrence ought to be waiting on the edge of their seats about now. As we previously reported, city commissioners approved a substantial package of financial incentives for the project. The incentives were thought to allow the building’s owner — a group led by local businessman Doug Compton — to renovate the place for local caterer Steve Maceli to use as a unique reception and banquet hall. But Maceli — who would continue to operate his existing location on New Hampshire Street — has confirmed to me that he hasn’t yet signed a deal to move forward on the project. He said figuring out how to cover the operating expenses of the building has been tougher than he originally envisioned.

“It is a big monster of a building,” Maceli said. “We are taking our time to be very thorough. It would be a project of significance in a building of significance. If we do it, we want to do it right.”

Maceli hasn’t officially declared the project dead, but it clearly has moved into the category of “if it will happen” rather than “when it will happen.”

Maceli said he is meeting with the building’s owners again soon, and he said Compton had been open to a lot of ideas to try to keep the project alive.

“Doug Compton has been working with me as best he can,” Maceli said. “He really has been great to work with.”

The city structured the incentive package — which included property tax rebates and cash assistance to make some ADA and fire sprinkler improvements — in a way that required the building to be used as a banquet/reception hall.

Basically, if the Maceli’s deal falls apart, so does the incentives package. That likely would mean that Compton would be back to square one in trying to renovate the building and finding a user for it. Compton previously has conceded that it has been tough to find a user for the unique layout of the 100 year old building. The building — which is at 10th and Massachusetts streets — has been empty for eight years.

• This weekend is a big one for getting into the Christmas spirit. Downtown Lawrence’s Old Fashioned Christmas Parade will start at 11 a.m. on Saturday. But if you want to do a double-header, the folks in Eudora have an event going on Sunday. The Eudora Chamber of Commerce will host a Holiday Extravaganza Open House that will benefit the Eudora Food Pantry and Community Living Opportunities. The event will include a silent auction for decorated Christmas trees, sleigh rides provided by CLO’s Midnight Farms, pictures with Santa, treats for the kids and musical entertainment. The event is charging $5 for a picture with Santa or that fee is waived if you donate two cans of food. Donations also are accepted for the sleigh rides. The event will run from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Eudora High School, which is just south of the Kansas Highway 10 and Church Street interchange.

Comments

lawupsman 2 years, 4 months ago

easy to distinguish the difference between ups and the usps: the brown trucks are working the umpteen holidays that the usps is not! oh and ups would be out of business if it were billions of dollars in debt every year!

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coderob 2 years, 4 months ago

I happen to have worked a bit in education and public policy. I've got a lot to say about this subject because of my own job experience. I think there are really important things to consider here, and that deception in the higher ed industry isn't very different from what happened in the housing industry. Writing the problem off as being something that gets to happen in a free market economy misses important consumer abuses that are occurring, and worse occurring in our community and tacitly condoned by LJworld.

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thefisherman 2 years, 4 months ago

Seems to me like coderob needs to find another job. He's got way too much smack-talking time on his hands.

Did you look at their site? It says they're not affiliated with the federal (.gov) site and even links to them. I did the form myself almost ten years ago and surely could have used the help if I'd have known about them. I very likely got hosed out of financial aid because my parents wouldn't help fill out the form and I wound up over ten grand in the hole - despite having a relatively poor family. I wouldn't use them now, but I sure do have a financial advisor that handles my investments - I'd just rather not worry about it, despite the fact that I could use e-trade or some other such site to do it for a substantially lower cost. To each his own.

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Jimo 2 years, 4 months ago

FAFSA was "the most cumbersome piece of government crap" ever?

Is the 1040EZ the runner-up?

I fear for the future of this country.

Maybe you plan to pay someone to attend college for you too.

God knows, if FAFSA was too difficult, remedial English will be a real cruncher.

Seriously, if you can operate a remote control then you can figure out FAFSA.

Didn't this scam have an earlier incarnation where someone would run a back of the magazine ad promising a magic disappearing kit for $1 and then after you sent in the dollar they'd send you a letter telling you that you made your money disappear?

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merg311 2 years, 4 months ago

Many improvements have been made to the fafsa.gov site over the past few years. Now there is even the ability to transfer information directly from the IRS. So for those who try to fly through the application just to get it over with or those who aren't educated enough to read the instructions "Report your Income Tax paid from line 55 of your 1040", that information can now just be transferred automatically.

Again, people get caught up or intimidated in doing the form because it's associated with the government, but if you just read the questions and the instructions listed, it's quite simple and not as cumbersome as many make it out to be.

Free enterprise though. If you can get a percentage of the American public to pay $79.99 even though there's an option to do it for free, so be it.

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ResQd 2 years, 4 months ago

Who cares, rob. Not affiliated with either side, but I do know that I tried to complete my daughters FAFSA online several years back, and it was the MOST cumbersome piece of government crap that I've ever had to complete before. Gave me a headache to boot. Trying to get help from her Financial Aid Office and then go through the free telephone line was just as crappy. I would have paid someone back then to do it for me, less headaches. If the current system is not working for alot of people, more power to them.

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coderob 2 years, 4 months ago

Yeah, I counted three people entirely defending the company, all with their first posts made today. I sort of wish I could get a job posting comments online, albeit not with this company.

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deec 2 years, 4 months ago

This story sure seems to have a lot of brand new posters, who all write in a similar run-on style and make glaring word choice errors.(knowledge-knowledgeable; mislead-misled Interesting.

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coderob 2 years, 4 months ago

Is it me, or were there a lot of people who seemed to work for Student Financial Aid Services on the thread today? I've got a conspiracy theory cooking in my head about their HR firing off an email getting people to comment. Just my imagination though, I'm sure.

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Bob Forer 2 years, 4 months ago

Maceli "said figuring out how to cover the operating expenses of the building has been tougher than he originally envisioned."

Great. Just fricking great. I thought that an astute businessman would have the financial end of the business plan figured out prior to seeking a handout from the city. The city should withdraw the offer, as it sounds like we are dealing with a less than competent businessman. What happens if Maceili follows through on the plan and goes belly up six months later? The taxpayers are left holding that bag on all of the incentives they paid out that ultimately will fail to produce jobs and increased tax payments as promised.

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mbulicz 2 years, 4 months ago

For three years of my college education, I was Pell grant eligible. I did not know that my dad would qualify as a dislocated worker. I did not answer the question correctly on the FAFSA three years in a row. The result? Over ten thousand dollars in loans to fund the last of my education, a costly and avoidable mistake for which I am still paying today. I could have had my education paid for in grant money. Today, I could be paying money back into the local economy as opposed to paying interest on student loans.

Had this service existed while I was in school, I would have gladly cashed in on the opportunity for someone to help me do my FAFSA. Taking an obscure and verbose government form and making it accessible is a business model which has existed for years, and will continue to exist as long as there are government forms.

And Coderob, I'd advise you to check out the revised Higher Education Act of 2008 which acknowledged the need and legitimacy of professional FAFSA preparation. I appreciate your input as an anonymous commenter on the internet and employee of an unrelated call center, but I think I'll defer to federally legislated endorsement of this business's model.

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blue73harley 2 years, 4 months ago

After filling out the free FAFSA form once, I delegated the task to my wife! I still have to gather a lot of the info to fill out the damn thing and like anything else developed by the government, it is far from simple and intuitive.

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tsentz 2 years, 4 months ago

Just a few of the things that Americans currently pay for that they can do for free:

  • change your oil
  • file your taxes
  • get an education
  • clean your house
  • cook your meals

I see no harm in a professional company that files FAFSAs. I may not need the service personally, but I'm sure someone does. If professionals are what you do not want in America, please cook your own meals, file your own taxes, educate yourself via Wikipedia, and clean up after yourself, and watch the economy tank. You may not use all of those services, but I guarantee you use at least one.

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snapdragon 2 years, 4 months ago

"Employment is at-will, at least in Kansas, making it easier to dismiss employees when call volumes dip due to the season."

Unlike Vangent, Student Financial Aid Services does not do this. I have worked at Vangent and I am proud to now be an employee with Student Financial Aid Services and the Rezolve Group.

To coderob, it is one thing to have an opinion but unfair to talk bad about a company you know very little about.

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Flap Doodle 2 years, 4 months ago

Back in the day, it was NCS that processed the student aid applications. They had a call center in the Golf Course building and a precessing center in Iowa City. IIRC, they moved to new digs on the east side of town in 1997/1998 or so.

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katsrkool 2 years, 4 months ago

@coderob you sure seem to know a lot about that company. Perhaps you used to work there? Maybe you are a little upset about some sort of termination??

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thepianoman 2 years, 4 months ago

Off the subject....but....FYI Chad and others....P-King has re-opened its doors! Sadly, though, they no longer offer a buffett!!!! :(

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merg311 2 years, 4 months ago

Maybe it's just me, but why pay for an application titled FREE Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)?

The application is not nearly as difficult as most would have you believe...

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Megan Tugman 2 years, 4 months ago

So instead of being happy for more jobs for our community with a locally owned company, you'd rather whine about perceived business motives? Sounds productive.

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coderob 2 years, 4 months ago

I've got to admit that that's a well-crafted PR line, even despite the grammatical error in the use of the word knowledge.

But like you say, it is one of two options for filling it out. The federal option is free, and offers customer support. People can also get free support from high school guidance counselors and financial aid offices at their college. Trying to charge for something that's available for free elsewhere strikes me as nothing short of predatory.

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Emily Mae 2 years, 4 months ago

What does MACFallon's 'supposed' employment of this company have to do with the validity of her statement?

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MACFallon 2 years, 4 months ago

The federal government offers students two choices when preparing a federal student aid application (FAFSA) - either they can do it themselves on the U.S. Department of Education's Web site, or, similar to income tax preparation, they can receive fee-based, professional expertise from a legitimate and knowledge FAFSA preparation service, one like this company, which focuses on accuracy and not gaming the system to ensure students receive the most aid possible.

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coderob 2 years, 4 months ago

That's the FAFSA.COM company for anyone not familiar. They capitalize year after year on people who still manage not to know the difference between .com and .gov.

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