Financial Aid Professionals Convene in Washington, D.C. for NASFAA’s 2019 Leadership Conference

By Joelle Fredman, NASFAA Staff Reporter

NASFAA’s 2019 Leadership & Legislative Conference & Expo kicked off Monday, inviting more than 300 financial aid professionals from across the country to our nation’s capital to gain knowledge and insight into the management issues that current and future leaders in the field are facing today.

Over the next two days, attendees will have the chance to connect with financial aid directors, and aspiring directors, from various institutions, hear from experts on the characteristics needed to serve as leaders in association management roles, explore the importance of enrollment management, and—new this year—learn about advanced topics in financial aid leadership. On Wednesday, attendees will have the opportunity to head to Capitol Hill to advocate on behalf of their students.

NASFAA’s 2018-19 National Chair Lori Vedder welcomed the group Monday—the largest group the conference has seen since it was first convened almost 50 years ago—ensuring them that whether they are new to the field or veterans to the financial aid profession, the next few days will serve as a great way to broaden their perspectives as student aid administrators.  

“I can guarantee you that you will not be disappointed when you leave on Wednesday,” Vedder said.

First-time conference attendee Patrick Pearce, the manager of financial aid advising at the American Public University System, said Monday that he has “been enjoying meeting other individuals in the industry” and—as a participant of the advanced topics in leadership and management pathway—learning about the difference between management and leadership and how to provide growth opportunities for the employees he oversees in his office.

Pearce said that he is looking forward to his visit to Capitol Hill Wednesday because “it’s important for us to go out and present to legislators exactly what we do and why it’s important that they focus on issues pertaining to federal student aid to promote higher education.”

Becky Isaacs, the director of financial aid at East Central University and president-elect of the Oklahoma Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (OASFAA), has returned to the conference for the second time to attend the association management pathway, which she said thus far has taught her about the legal and moral obligations necessary to lead a successful association.

“It was eye-opening,” Isaacs said of the first session Monday on governance and board effectiveness. “I’m sure [the rest of the conference] will give us a wealth of information.

Issacs added that she is looking forward to meeting with lawmakers Wednesday to make them aware of the issues facing her students, and to see if “what we see in the trenches” aligns with the legislation they are working on.

In addition to participating in sessions, NASFAA President Justin Draeger and Megan Coval, NASFAA’s vice president of policy and federal relations, updated conference attendees on what’s going on at the federal level with regard to higher education and financial aid. While Draeger said that he doubted that the Higher Education Act (HEA) will be reauthorized in the near future, it’s important now more than ever to visit Capitol Hill.

“The time for advocacy is not at the time of reauthorization—that might be too late,” Draeger told attendees. “The time is now.”

Draeger explained that bills aimed at helping students access higher education that are drafted now, prior to the rewriting of a comprehensive HEA bill, may be “put on the shelf” and rolled up into that legislation.

For example, NASFAA staff, NASFAA regional presidents, and financial aid administrators worked with lawmakers on a bicameral bill—the FAFSA Fairness Act of 2019—that was introduced earlier this month to help students complete the FAFSA when they cannot provide parental information by allowing them to submit their application after answering a single screening question, as a “provisionally independent” student.

A similar bill introduced last spring included language that required institutions to use the provisional independent status and resulting Expected Family Contribution (EFC) to calculate and deliver full provisional aid packages to students. Concerns were raised throughout the financial aid community about the possibility of this creating perceived “bait-and-switch” situations, where a student would ultimately not meet the criteria for the dependency override, and would receive a new, presumably reduced, aid package. The revised bill requires the secretary of education to develop a screening question on the FAFSA for dependent students who do not include parental information, confirming that they want to apply for provisional independent student status, with final determinations to be made by institutions through professional judgement.

Draeger told attendees that this significant change was made possible due to the input from higher education stakeholders. Draeger called this effort “textbook advocacy,” adding that the language in this improved bill could find its way into the HEA.

Draeger added that student aid-focused bills can also be passed outside of reauthorization, and emphasized the constant need for input from financial aid professionals. Draeger said, for example, that news announced at last November’s Federal Student Aid (FSA) training conference regarding the Department of Education (ED) allowing copies of tax returns and written statements of non-filing to be accepted for verification purposes in lieu of obtaining IRS tax return transcripts and verification of non-filing (VONF) forms was the result of “an outcry from our community.”

While progress on HEA reauthorization has slowed, Coval updated attendees on the status of the House and Senates’ priorities for the bill. In the last session of Congress, House Republicans introduced the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity (PROSPER) Act, which included cuts to many student aid programs. Last summer, however, Democrats—which are now in control of the House—proposed to increase the investment in higher education programs. Coval said that “those ideas can still be lifted up” into new legislation.

The Senate has still not released a draft bill, yet Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who chairs the Senate education committee, has said that he hopes to pass a bill by Christmas—shortly before he plans to retire—that would focus on FAFSA simplification and establishing accountability standards.   

Draeger told attendees that when they advocate on the Hill, it is also important to “highlight good behavior” from their lawmakers, and express their support for their efforts in promoting higher education.

“Part of leadership is putting our arms around as many people as we can,” Draeger said. “We are trying to expand our community.”

Attendees will hear more tomorrow about how to prepare for their Hill visits. Be sure to check out our Facebook album throughout the week for photos from the conference and follow along on Twitter with #NASFAALeads19 to keep up with what members are talking about.



Publication Date: 2/26/2019

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