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“SARa” Student Accounts Receivable for Academia

SARa is a next-generation student-accounts receivable product that was designed from the ground up to solve many of the accounting peculiarities of higher education. From her limited fund management through 1098T calculation features, SARa helps to solve many of the accounting issues that have traditionally ended up in the “manual” pile in the student accounting office.

SARa was designed in a modular fashion, allowing her to be easily expanded. Her major areas of functionality follow:

Feature Descriptions

Tour Feature Screens

At her core, SARa records charges, payments and deferments on a student’s account. The transaction view is designed to clearly show what a student has been charged, and what has been paid, including information relating to what payments have been applied to what charges. Every transaction can be queried to get more detailed information on the transaction. SARa can handle an unlimited number of transaction types which can vary over time.

SARa’s payment definitions include the ability to establish the charges that each payment can pay, allowing you to manage your restricted funds, including federal, state and institutional. This is combined with a powerful rule-based system to allow you to tune your payment philosophy. In addition to handling financial aid payments only to pay off allowable charges, the rule system allows you to implement more specific controls, including the ability to limit prior-year payments from current year funds to the federally mandated limit.

SARa allows Payments, Charges and Deferments (sometimes called estimated aid) to be created on the account. Deferments reduce the student’s balance for a defined period of time, and can be set to automatically expire should a corresponding transaction be posted to the account. Deferments can be transmitted from the financial aid system and established manually in the SARa UI so that your customer service staff can assist your student body.

Due to the careful way in which SARa tracks payment application, SARa is able to calculate refunds accurately, ensuring that you stay in compliance with regulations. Unused financial aid can be refunded to the student, while institutional awards can be prevented from refunding. Refund requirements such as ensuring that a check or credit card payment has had a clearing period before being eligible to refund, are enforced right within the refund module.  Refunds can be automatically directed to numerous endpoints, including ACH payments, check printing, manual check writing, credit card processors, etc.

SARa’s database is very well documented, and we can work with you to generate the exact reports that your institution needs. SARa contains built in reporting for 1098-T generation (including online viewing of the data in the system as it stands if a 1098-T were to be generated).  SARa can also track cash, and “cash-like” transactions for the purpose of 8300 tracking and 8300 generation.

Built in to the account interface is a rich memorandum functionality, along with the ability to create flags, holds, and alerts on the account. Flags can be set both manually and within the business rules, and can be used to alter behavior in other processes.  In addition to maintaining its own memoranda system, SARa can optionally view memos created in Sigma’s Financial Aid product, ProSAM, allowing for a fuller view of the student’s financial picture.

SARa allows transactions to be rolled up into simplified views for your staff, and allows multiple tags to be applied to a transaction, making it easy to find and summarize the information you are viewing.

SARa allows for single account and divided account general ledger transactions, and maintains a clear link between the generations of the transaction within the student account, right down to the export of the transaction to the general ledger. Transactions can be sent to the general ledger as summary or individual transactions.

SARa uses a fully audited transaction transfer system that allows you to move transactions from one account to another, including the ability to fully or partially reverse the transfer. She includes a proof-of-concept Third Party (i.e. sponsor account) and Payment Billing (deferred payment plan) module that can be extended and customized to your needs.

SARa can export billing statements in a rich XML format, allowing you to generate custom billing statements for your students.  Billing reports can be generated on a schedule, or in ad-hoc mode. These can be sent to external agencies for printing or electronic presentment, or we can work with you to establish your own bill presentment system.

Reversing a transaction from the system can be done by simply selecting the transaction (or group of transactions) and asking the system to reverse. Negated transactions are automatically generated and locked to the original transactions. Checks and other payments can be bounced, including applying rule-based logic to the action (such as charging a late fee, setting a hold, etc.) and SARa maintains a full audit record of who altered the account at all times.

As an institution of higher education, one of the most important piece of the student accounting puzzle is to correctly charge students for the courses they are taking. Over time, policies regarding the calculation of tuition and fees has become increasingly complex for many institutions. In-state and out-of-state tuition, per course, per credit and per semester fees, capped rates for full time students, grandfathered rates, differing drop fees depending on the period during which the course is dropped, late registration fees and many other complexities often make answering the question “what will this cost” a daunting task.

SARa divides the many aspects of fee management into separate concerns, separating pricing concerns, association of courses to different types of tuition, and student attributes (program of study, level of study, full-time and part-time status, etc.) into distinct areas, and then combining these aspects using a powerful yet comprehensible rules framework to produce charges and discounts on the student account. Each of these aspects is also versioned by term, meaning you can alter your rules for your upcoming semester or term, without changing the logic in your current semester.

SARa maintains the course charging history, so if a intelligently rebill the account, affecting only those transactions that are necessary in order to correct the account.

In addition to the raw power of the out-of-the box rules engine functionality, the language is also extensible should you have a complex case that is not presently handled by the fee management system.

Second only to tuition and fee calculation, accurate posting of financial aid to the student account is of critical importance. Though SARa is designed as a fully independent and agnostic student accounts package, she was also designed to integrate with Sigma’s ProSAM Financial Aid product out of the box.

ProSAM can easily be configured to post your financial aid disbursements, as well as deferments (estimated aid) as needed. SARa can also be optionally configured to view the memoranda module of ProSAM, allowing a fuller view of a student’s financial picture from the accounting office.

SARa’s business logic is written entirely in Java, with a well-documented database design, and open web services to allow you to integrate with your existing systems.

SARa can accept transactions directly over web services, and by using an XML-based or CSV-based file format, allowing you to integrate with the system as you feel appropriate. Intelligent CSV formats make it easy for a department to send you only the details needed to bill hundreds of accounts, without having to cut and paste details between columns. Transactions can also be entered as ad hoc transactions manually via the UI, or uploaded in batch using a simple UI upload wizard.

SARa’s authorization module allows you to generate fine-grained controls over different roles. SARa can use her own build-in user database, or connect to your campus-wide authentication system.

Users can be granted access to the system to charge students based on a limited set of transaction types, allowing you to grant access to departments to bill for activities directly.

All changes to the database made through SARa are recorded, allowing you to see not only when something happened, but who did it, where they did it, and how they did it. Our local audit service supplements the standard logging features of the application server.

Many of SARa’s most complex features can be configured through simple UI switches. Where logic is more than a few simple switches, SARa uses a rules engine to give the institution exceptional fine-grained control over how they want their system to function.

As SARa is written entirely in Java and Javascript frameworks, the software is portable to any major server (Windows, Linux-flavors, etc.) and end users can access via any modern HTML5 web browser. Most functionality can also be accessed using mobile devices.

SARa’s business engine is entirely written in Java, and can be configured to run on a wide range of databases. She can run on a Windows or Linux-based server, and can be almost entirely configured through the web browser. The user interface is written almost entirely in AngularJS, giving a rich user experience through any major browser. As a web-application, your staff do not need to install any software locally, making it faster to deploy to your campus, and, subject to your security policy, accessible from anywhere. Wherever possible, SARa is built on open technology, open source and open standards to ensure ongoing support of the product.