For the first time, NASFAA invited 48 leaders in financial aid and enrollment management to Washington, D.C. Wednesday to engage in a focused and interpersonal exchange of ideas about issues on their campuses, emerging trends in student affairs, and strategic planning.
Over the course of two days, attendees of NASFAA's inaugural Executive Roundtable event are able to network with invited guests, lawmakers and Capitol Hill staffers, and representatives from other D.C.-based higher education organizations. The event featured both sessions for the entire roster of attendees — such as one on how financial aid data can be used to educate institutions about the challenges students face as well as meet enrollment objectives — and small group sessions, in which attendees were able to discuss issues and topics facing their individual campuses and financial aid teams.
The group commenced their work after opening remarks from Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education (ACE) and former under secretary of education at the Department of Education (ED). Mitchell gave a high-level overview of three issues facing higher education and how ACE is working strategically to address them. At the forefront of many discussions in the higher education community is the growing negative narrative around the value of a college education.
"We get to the point where data isn't compelling, but we have that acute belief that if you just know the facts you'll change your mind," he said. "The world doesn't work that way anymore."
ACE is working to build a positive narrative around higher education with both anecdotal and empirical data behind it, highlighting the positive things happening on campuses across the country, as well as how they are working to improve in areas of concern, such as graduation and completion rates.
"We need to connect what we're talking about to the narrative in people's heads," he said. "We need to get the right messages in front of people in a way that they can hear it."
The leaders gathered then dove into a number of sessions on the future of financial aid, how the profession will intersect with other areas of higher education, and how financial aid offices can not just influence, but lead in those conversations.
For example, Ann Cudd, provost and senior vice chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh, and Marc Harding, vice provost for enrollment at the university, spoke about how data from the financial aid office was pivotal in shifting more institutional aid to meet the financial need of students to improve retention and graduation rates, while still working toward the university's enrollment goals and work to maintain high standards.
Cudd said that when presenting the idea — matching Pell Grant awards, and covering unmet need for non-Pell-eligible students after a determined financial threshold — she tried to frame the conversation in terms of "what it is to have a high quality student body, and what our real goals and mission are." Diversity and inclusion, she said, "is so intimately connected to everything we're trying to do," and expanding access is a way to pull from a broader swath of students.
"Getting the right data and the right way of presenting that information is critical to being able to present issues in a new way," she said. "You have a lot of power to shape how data and information and learning goes on with your leaders. [It's about] learning how financial aid can shape institutional goals, but also shape how we achieve — or fail to achieve — our mission."
After lunch, the group also heard from Federal Student Aid (FSA) Chief Operating Officer Gen. Mark Brown, who spoke about the importance of the collective voice of the financial aid profession, and how aid administrators can work with FSA to best serve students in a transparent and efficient manner.
NASPA President Kevin Kruger shared with attendees the top issues student affairs stakeholders are facing on campus that have implications for student success and persistence — and financial aid professionals working to improve those outcomes — such as mental health issues.
While sexual violence was the top concern among student affairs officials from 2011 through 2013, in recent years mental health issues has replaced it as the most pressing issue involving students on campus. And Kruger said research suggests that the situation is only going to get worse, as more students each year are experiencing major mental health episodes and requesting more counseling sessions.
"This generation, they have two things going for them: they see themselves as the least healthy generation … and they are much more likely than previous generations to seek help," Kruger said. "That's why your counseling center directors are bursting at the seams."
While counseling is one answer to help these students, Kruger emphasized that to really establish an environment of positive mental health, institutions need to create opportunities for students to feel optimistic about their mental wellbeing, find meaning in their lives and academic work, and experience a sense of belonging.
Pat McGuire, president of Trinity University in Washington, D.C., gave closing remarks at the end of the day, focusing on the need for financial aid professionals to be advocates for "coming up with new measures of success for our students," and moving away from metrics that don't give a comprehensive look at student success, such as graduation rates.
"We need to build stronger webs among everybody on campus about how to support students for success and how to understand the financial issues that flow through all this," she said. "Democracy depends on a well educated population. We need our students who have been on the margins to become as highly educated as possible" so they, too, can play a role in finding and developing the solutions higher education needs.
Publication Date: 2/6/2020