Conference Day Three: Celebrating The Past, Welcoming The Future

Exclusive Conference Coverage 

By Communication Staff 

NASFAA conference attendees celebrated successes of the recent past and looked to the future of the organization and the profession in Nashville Tuesday.

In addition to many professional development sessions, the membership welcomed its new National Chair, Eileen O’Leary of Stonehill College, and thanked outgoing National Chair Craig Munier (University of Nebraska, Lincoln) for a wonderful year of service. Awardees at the annual Awards Luncheon and Business Meeting had thanks to give too, including Martha Kanter, former U.S. Undersecretary of Education, who credited financial aid administrators with major college access successes. See below for summaries of selected sessions.

Looking To NASFAA’s Future (Town Hall)

Conference attendees delved into NASFAA’s recent past and plans for the future with organization leadership Tuesday during “Looking to NASFAA’s Future,” a town hall meeting.

Every three years, NASFAA’s association governance committee reviews the organization’s strategic long-range plan, which includes surveying the membership and staff and completing an environmental scan. The plan for 2014-2017 will be unveiled soon—and some changes are already underway, panelists said.

In one shift, NASFAA members will have more ways to be a part of the organization’s future, outgoing National Chair Craig Munier said. Volunteers can now apply to join certain NASFAA task forces, which will be shorter-term commitments with outlined charters and specific goals, Munier explained. A shift away from annual committees, the task forces will allow volunteers to pitch in on topics they’re passionate about, without a 12-month commitment.

“We think it will encourage more people to step forward and want to volunteer,” Munier said.

Already, a recent task force has brought new members into the volunteer mix, Eileen O’Leary, incoming National Chair, said. The Website Redevelopment Task Force is led by Justin Brown, a financial aid administrator at the University of Missouri, and includes many new volunteers like Brown who will help NASFAA to revamp its web presence. Calls for volunteers for future task forces will be announced online and through Today’s News

NASFAA’s Board of Directors also recently released changes to the Statement of Ethical Principles and Code of Conduct. The Task Force on Ethical Standards, in concert with legal counsel, proposed Enforcement Procedures intended to educate members about their ethical responsibilities and, as a last resort, to sanction those who are unwilling or unable to meet their ethical obligations. NASFAA is accepting member feedback on enforcement procedure proposals through July 10. 

“We want to make sure we strike the right balance, so getting comments from members is very important,” O’Leary said.

NASFAA leadership also reviewed products and services created under the most recent strategic long-range plan, including the AskRegs Knowledgebase, NASFAA Webinars, and the Student Aid Index

In the past 11 months, the AskRegs Knowledgebase has been searched 60,000 times, NASFAA President Justin Draeger said. NASFAA webinars have been similarly popular, with about half of the membership already accessing the service. 

Going forward, NASFAA will continue to build out products and services to increasingly add value to members. Stay tuned to Today’s News for the strategic long-range plan for 2014-2017, which will soon be available for members to read online. 

NASFAA's Student Aid Index Tour 

NASFAA’s Web Strategy Manager Carrie Conrad yesterday morning gave conferees an in-depth look at NASFAA’s new Student Aid Index, a mobile-optimized tool developed to help administrators and campus leadership to quickly locate information and references about popular financial aid topics and terms.

Conrad discussed the development process for the Index and demonstrated the tool's features and capabilities. In addition to showing the audience how to navigate from one term to another, the resources available, how to search for a specific term on the mobile-friendly tool, Conrad explained that each term in the Index has a template of available information that includes a description or summary, related topics, synonyms, statutory authority, regulations, Department of Education references, NASFAA publications/articles, and subtopics.

“The real magic, we think, of the Student Aid Index are the subtopics,” Conrad said. The subtopics were developed to be relatively short terms to help users navigate directly to the specific information they are looking for, she explained.

Session presenters threw out a couple of tough questions as examples of situations that could arise in the aid office and gave attendees the opportunity to use the Student Aid Index on their personal phones or mobile devices to find the needed regulations in the Index that would answer the question.

To learn more about the Index, visit www.nasfaa.org/index to view the short (1.5 minute) demo video and read testimonials from aid administrators who have used the tool.

Federal Town Hall

During a Federal Town Hall, conferees shared their concerns regarding prior-prior year, a move toward a student unit record, and sequestration with NASFAA and Department of Education leaders.

When asked what moves ED is making on transferring to the use of prior-prior year tax data, ED’s Jeff Baker said that the Department has the authority to make the move but would like some guidance from Congress to clarify budgetary concerns. He said that while PPY sounds like a promising way to simplify the financial aid application process, “the devil’s in the details” and ED is not expecting any moves on the program for a few years. 

Baker also discussed the possibility of a student unit record but noted that current statute prohibits ED from creating one. NASFAA President and CEO Justin Draeger said that the association supports the creating of a student unit record and that he thinks Congress may be “movable” on the issue because of its desire for more and better data.

Several members brought up sequestration and asked if there have been any efforts to alleviate the strain caused by the cuts to higher education programs.

“It’s a statutory problem that’s going to exist for seven more years,” Baker said, hinting that the sequestration rates for the next seven years would be discussed during the federal update tomorrow.

Draeger told the audience that there is “no appetite to touch sequestration right now” on Capitol Hill, adding that the outcomes of the mid-term elections might provide better indicators for the future under the cuts.

Baker also urged financial aid administrators to weigh in on the proposals put forth during the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. “I would urge you to get involved in all of that in the future,” he said.

NASFAA University Half-day Workshop

NASFAA Training and Regulatory Assistance staff hosted the second NASFAA University half-day workshop Tuesday morning, providing instruction in the return of Title IV funds. The workshop was held the day after instructors taught a verification half-day workshop, both of which included interactive discussion and generated a lot of buzz about NASFAA U.

“These workshops are a great way for NASFAA to bring our training to a large number of members in a fun and interactive way,” said NASFAA Training Specialist David Tolman, who taught the verification course. “Both sessions were well attended and received, opening the possibility to more opportunities like this in the future.

Awards Luncheon And Business Meeting

Conference attendees congregated for the Awards Luncheon And Business Meeting, where a number of deserving recipients were awarded and recognized..

Many of the recipients accepted their awards in person, including Dr. Kanter—who credited financial aid administrators for playing a direct role in increasing college access, particularly among low-income students.

“It is literally generation after generation that you are touching,” she told attendees. “What we want is people to get a great college education and be successful. … You’re making that possible. I have to applaud NASFAA – your tireless commitment is unending.”

Outgoing National Chair Craig Munier also addressed the crowd, thanking his staff, family, and NASFAA leaders and members for all their support. “What you do is so much bigger than financial aid,” Munier told the crowd. “This isn’t what we do; this is who we are. Thank you for allowing me to represent you and this great profession, which I love.”

Munier concluded his speech by passing the gavel to Eileen O’Leary, 2014-2015 National Chair. 

“There is no one I would rather pass this gavel to than you,” he told O’Leary.

Luncheon attendees also received updates on NASFAA membership and financials. As of June 30, 2014, NASFAA has 2,839 institutional members, Association Governance Committee Chair Ron Day reported. The organization is also on strong financial footing, with a fiscal year-end surplus of approximately $60,000 -- the result of larger than expected revenues in membership, training, and a successful 2013 conference in Las Vegas as well as additional cost-cutting measures made by staff, Treasurer Dan Mann reported.

Income-Driven Repayment Plans 

Income-driven repayment plans were the focus of a morning session hosted by NASFAA Policy Analyst Jesse O’Connell and University of Southern California Assistant Dean Patrick Moore, who discussed the pros and cons of repayment plans like Income-Based Repayment and Pay As You Earn.

Moore said that his focus on counseling students about their repayment options centers on “encouraging people to … leverage the tools available to them,” like StudentAid.gov’s repayment estimator. 

The site provides “great tools to help people understand the pitfalls that go along with some of their choices,” Moore said, encouraging the audience to explore the site’s offerings and use them in their own counseling endeavors. 

During the second half of the session, O’Connell reviewed legislative efforts over the last several months to introduce more income-driven repayment options to the federal lending system. “There definitely is a lot of conversation in Washington about making alterations or changes to these plans,” O’Connell said, adding, “When we talk about what changes we can expect to see, I think it’s fair to say that coming out of reauthorization we will see some kind of slimmed down IBR plan.”

A Financial Aid Director's Guide to Trending Legal Issues in Title IV Enforcement

This afternoon session offered attendees an overview of key legal issues emerging from current Title IV enforcement activities, both in and out of the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the Office of Inspector General.

“We want to identify trending topics of significance to your institution,” said Joel Rudnick, principal at Powers, Pyles, Sutter & Verville. Not all schools will have the same points of concern, he said, but attendees were encouraged to write down the issues that were of concern to them so they could go back to their institutions and ensure their school is in compliance.

Presenters noted an uptick in both in-depth program reviews and ED program reviews. Additionally, there has been an increased willingness on ED’s part to take administrative action of late. 

Administrators who want to know what sort of compliance issues may be coming down the pike or what ED is focusing on should review Federal Student Aid’s (FSA) 2012-2016 Strategic Plan and Annual Report which describes FSA’s strategies for meeting its goals and objectives, Rudnick suggested. 

Beyond the top 10 list of program review findings, the session focused primarily on trendsetting and high risk compliance issues arising out of recent program reviews, audits, investigations, fine actions, federal court decisions, administrative hearings, and pending legislation and regulations. 

Financial Literacy and Helping Your Families Navigate Through the Maze

Financial aid administrators aren’t just technicians – they’re educators, too. And when it comes to financial literacy training, financial aid professionals have a chance to channel their creativity and know-how into information that can be life changing for students, panelists said at a financial literacy training session Tuesday.

But that doesn’t mean financial aid administrators have to tackle financial literacy training alone. In fact, financial literacy programs are often most successful when they’re a cross-campus effort with administrative buy-in, panelists said. 

At the session, three financial aid professionals shared best practices from successful training programs at their institutions: Brad Barnett, senior associate director of financial aid at James Madison University (JMU), Jason Dietz, assistant director of student financial planning at Alvernia University, and David Rice, associate director of counseling and outreach at Saint Louis University. 

At JMU, a Financial Education Committee includes university staff from the financial aid office, alumni affairs, off-campus housing, and more. It also includes representatives from the Student Governance Association, who help the committee to better connect with student concerns and who recruit students to attend financial literacy events, Barnett said.

Working with other offices on campus helps to better tailor financial literacy training to specific students, Saint Louis’ Rice said. Financial literacy training shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all approach when students in different majors and life stages face drastically different financial situations, he said.

In any training, it’s helpful to add a personal touch, Alvernia University’s Dietz said. In his presentations, he sees students start to connect with the material when he relates it to his own experiences with personal finance, he said. 

Assessing, Developing, and Maintaining a Social Media Presence

Social media can be a great avenue through which to connect prospective and current students with financial aid information, but offices should set clear strategies before embarking on a campaign, panelists said Tuesday in a social media session.

Financial aid offices that want to launch a social media effort should first determine whether they have the resources to start and continue a campaign, according to panelists Justin Chase Brown, associate director of financial aid at the University of Missouri, Lenna Sliney, La Quinta Fellow with Blue Star Families, and Melissa Niksic, marketing communications specialist at Loyola University Chicago. If not, it’s better to redirect resources elsewhere, rather than to start and abandon a public presence, Niksic said.

If your office does have the resources, social media can offer significant return on investment to financial aid administrators, the panelists said. At Rutgers University, where Sliney worked, financial aid administrators offer a weekly Twitter chat during which, for an hour, students could ask questions and get immediate responses from administrators. It’s one way to serve many students quickly, Sliney said.

To start a campaign, first pick one or multiple platforms for your content. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and Tumblr often have different audiences and content demands to take into consideration, Sliney said. 

Next, set a clear strategy. Make sure it’s in line with your university’s culture and requirements for interacting with students, panelists recommended. Even in your own office, clarify expectations, guidelines, and goals. Consider a monthly content calendar, setting specific social media posts for certain days, the presenters said.

“You need a road map to get through your social media strategy from start to finish,” Sliney said. “Your strategy needs to be short term and long term, as you’re not going to see immediate results.”

It is important to track results, though, Niksic said. Consider running monthly analytics reports to track engagement and to see what tactics are resonating with your audiences.

Social media channels can also illuminate student perceptions of financial aid and your office in general, Brown said.  “Use what you learn from the process – be responsive and accept feedback,” he recommended. “You will understand what people don’t like about your business process, and if you can change it, you should.”

Loan Counseling Tools

As student loan default rates continue to rise, financial literacy is of the utmost importance, said Cynthia Battle, program manager of Direct Loan servicing at the U.S. Department of Education (ED) in a session Tuesday. It is ED’s hope that getting personalized, visual, and interactive content to borrowers will help reduce confusion and aid borrowers in repayment of their loans.

“Hopefully it’s helping borrowers to understand their financial decisions and plan better,” Battle said of ED’s expanded loan counseling tools.

The session provided an overview of the loan counseling resources available on StudentLoans.gov, including web-based interactive entrance, exit, and Financial Awareness Counseling Tool (FACT) which offer tips and tools to help students understand their financial aid obligations, manage their finances, and choose the best repayment plan for their circumstances.

FACT is a non-mandatory tool “designed to fill the gap between entrance and exit counseling,” Battle said. In addition to providing students with a centralized, online source of financial literacy information, the tool gives schools educational resources about federal student aid. 

Grappling with the Demand for Student Aid Data

Data requests can come in from sources within and outside the institution—and for busy financial aid offices, it’s crucial to have efficient ways to accurately process those requests, panelists said in a session Tuesday.

A master data file can help to ensure requests are answered in a consistent and accurate fashion, said panelists Nicholas Prewett, director of financial aid at the University of Missouri, and Robert Gamez, senior associate director of financial aid at Kansas State University. 

If your institution does not currently have a master data file, begin documenting your data extraction methodology, the panelists recommended. In the future, it will be easier to replicate and keep your information consistent. 

_______________________

The last full day of the conference ended with a Tweet Up, or Twitter meetup, hosted by NASFAA and the #FAChat. The event brought together active Twitter users and allowed them to put a face to a Twitter handle. Conferees will assemble for a final general session this morning to hear about updates to the Department of Education's Title IV activities and initiatives. Topics will include the President's Title IV budget proposals, including the status of sequestration; changes to Title IV programs as a result of the Supreme Court's Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) decision; and an update on the Department's regulatory efforts. Keep an eye out in Today's News tomorrow for a recap of the closing breakfast and federal update.

 

Publication Date: 7/2/2014


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