Welcome to NASFAA’s Partners in Policy, a new series in which we profile colleagues at the associations, foundations, and think tanks that NASFAA works with to advance higher education and financial aid policies. In this installment, we profile Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation staff members Nick Lee and Sarah Bauder.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation began its work on higher education in 2008 with the creation of the Postsecondary Success strategy, which aims to ensure postsecondary program completion as a way to increase social mobility and economic development. The strategy focuses on and invests in seven areas of higher education, including financial aid, personalized learning, data and measurement, developmental education, flexible paths to college completion, institutional partnerships, and policy and advocacy.
Part of the team leading that charge are Nick Lee and Sarah Bauder.
Lee has been with Gates for over three years and previously worked for the U.S. Office of Management and Budget. As senior program officer with the Foundation’s U.S. Advocacy and Communications team, he focuses on a variety of federal postsecondary policy issues like financial aid, data transparency, and competency-based education delivery models.
“The stakes and potential impact to make people’s lives better are so great, which is why we’re involved at the Gates Foundation and why I’m happy to be along for that journey,” Lee said.
Sarah Bauder worked in student financial aid for 25 years before joining the foundation in April 2013 as a senior program officer. In addition to the work she does with Lee’s team, Bauder oversees the Domestic Scholarship Portfolio, a group of programs designed to reduce the financial barriers that hinder marginalized students’ postsecondary success.
“The reward is seeing the evidence and the positive impact these initiatives are having in changing the lives of students,” Bauder said. “Through the Gates Millennium Scholarship Program, DC Achievers, and Washington Achievers, students who historically would have self-selected out of attending college due to lack of financial resources are now able to attend.”
As part of the foundation’s work on higher education, Lee heads up a team that is focused on exploring ways to better design aid programs and practices to increase access and success among low-income students.
Gates’ Reimagining Aid Design and Delivery project (RADD) began nearly two-and-a-half years ago with the goal of raising awareness of the shortfalls of the current student financial aid delivery system, particularly as they relate to low-income and underrepresented students. Other goals of the project include generating thoughtful policy proposals and mobilizing partners to action.
Gathering input from practitioners is key in learning more about the shortfalls, Lee said, because "folks like aid administrators are the ones working directly with students each day and implementing programs of all kinds which are hopefully helping these students."
The project, which is scheduled to end in late 2015, has resulted in “an abundance of proposals affecting the whole gamut of higher education benefits … that have been thoughtfully developed, thoroughly discussed, and even in some cases incorporated into policy proposals,” Lee said. “More than ever before, the discourse is no longer simply focused on more or less resources for the system itself, but also digging into the questions about how things could be set up to work better to solve a particular problem like encouraging timely repayment or people applying for aid.”
NASFAA has participated in all three phases of the RADD project thus far, covering topics such as improving student aid systems and working with coalitions of higher education advocates on income-based repayment and payroll withholding for repayment.
It’s these kinds of collaborations, sometimes among unlikely bedfellows, that Lee says Gates most takes pride in.
“These relationships and new ways of operating in coalitions — as opposed to unilaterally — will likely last far beyond the duration of this project and hopefully to the betterment of the federal higher education policy community,” Lee said.
As Lee and Bauder look to the future of higher education and student aid, streamlining the FAFSA application and process and providing better financial information top their wish lists.
“There is more than ample evidence that [the FAFSA in its current form] continues to be an impediment to students accessing the resources for which they are eligible, and is leading to poor educational outcomes,” Lee said. And while these challenges are not new, “finally it seems as if there's an aligning of the stars where action might be taken sooner rather than later.”
Gates’ goal, Lee said, is not just to simplify the process but to do so “in a way to ensure that it's appropriately balanced against ensuring that aid administrators, states, and others making funding decisions have a sufficient amount of accurate information with which to make their critical determinations as well.”
As for Bauder, she said she’d like to see “the teaching of financial capability skills to students at the point the student needs to know the information” become commonplace.
Awarding financial aid is a critical part of student retention and achievement goals, but many students lack the basic skills needed to navigate financial aid decisions. Improving financial knowledge and skills “would help to assist students in making informed decisions that likely will affect them for a lifetime and improve the student experience,” Bauder said.
Publication Date: 1/29/2015