Financial Aid Professionals Dive Deep Into Leadership Issues at NASFAA Conference

By Allie Bidwell, NASFAA Senior Reporter

More than 300 financial aid professionals from across the country continued to network, learn, and build leadership skills on the second day of NASFAA’s 2019 Leadership & Legislative Conference & Expo.

Throughout the last two days, conference attendees took part in sessions intended to provide them with knowledge, perspective, and insight into certain leadership and management roles, such as strategic enrollment management, association management, leading as a new or aspiring aid director, or delving into advanced topics in financial aid leadership.Scott Jaschik speaks at Tuesday Lunch

During lunch, Inside Higher Ed co-founder and editor Scott Jaschik gave a special presentation on rising issues in higher education related to financial aid. Among the 12 issues he presented were a need to address that the economic model both for non-wealthy private nonprofit institutions and for public institutions is not working. Private nonprofit institutions struggle with different issues such as pressure to raise their discount rates, while regional public institutions might struggle to recruit the right students. Jaschik also raised issues with the “competition for the full-pay student” and a decline in international student enrollment, noting international enrollment is up 18 percent in Canada. While institutions in the past hoped to balance budgets with international students paying full price, many are now creating scholarships specifically for those students.

An uncertainty around federal appropriations and the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act also make the future of financial aid programs unclear, he said. Other issues like race and affirmative action, and a shift in the idea of “free” can impact financial aid in different ways.

With regard to the idea of “free college,” Jaschik said that many families “are so afraid [of debt] that they may not be making wise decisions.”

“I offer all these challenges you face not to depress you, but because I think the work you do is so important,” he said. “It matters that you get it right.”

Here are some takeaways from a few Tuesday sessions in the different pathways:

New & Aspiring Aid Directors Idea Lab: Leading in the 21st Century
This session—facilitated by Billie Jo Hamilton, past NASFAA national chair and associate vice president for enrollment planning & management at the University of South Florida, and Brenda Hicks, 2019-20 NASFAA national chair-elect and director of financial aid at Southwestern College—focused on helping new leaders set themselves up for success in a constantly changing higher education environment. With laws and regulations shifting at the federal level, new technology surfacing, and the public’s perception of higher education fluctuating, today’s financial aid leaders need to be able to adapt to and anticipate challenges. Leaders also need to keep in mind best practices for effective communication when addressing students and families, campus partners, or the broader community, Hicks explained. When speaking to students and families, it’s important to avoid jargon and to leverage social media to reach students where they are. When it comes to technology more broadly, Hicks encouraged the attendees to evaluate what issues the aid office is facing and whether technology can help solve that problem in a timely, cost-effective manner. Balancing the need to attract students and address the public’s perception of a higher education can also be a challenge for aid offices, Hamilton said. “There’s a public perception a lot of times that degrees and credentials are not worth the money,” she explained. When speaking to lawmakers about the importance of higher education and pushing for changes to help students, Hamilton said it’s important to know your audience and recognize they may not be experts in the topics at hand. Sharing personal stories, high-level institutional statistics, institutional successes, and offering to follow up can be an effective strategy, she said.

Advanced Topics in Financial Aid Leadership Idea Lab: Lead Others to Potential
In this session, attendees heard from NASFAA’s national chairs about their career trajectories and had the opportunity to ask them questions about becoming a stronger leader, making strategic career moves, and empowering their staff to also grow as leaders. Hamilton spoke about making the transition from a strictly financial aid role to a position in enrollment management. She noted that while it wasn’t a move she specifically intended to make, she had been preparing herself. Financial aid leaders, she said, are best prepared to move into enrollment management “because we work with students through their entire career.” Lori Vedder, 2018-19 NASFAA national chair and director of financial aid at University of Michigan–Flint, added that it’s important to be involved in discussions about enrollment management. “You want to know exactly where they see financial aid in this strategy,” she said. “You want to have a voice in that.” The group also discussed which traits are often associated with successful leaders, and how to balance the demands of your primary occupation with the demands of being involved in an association. National Chair-Elect Paula Luff noted that having a team that you trust is critical when becoming more involved with an association in a Advanced Topics in Financial Aid Leadership Pathwayleadership role. The chairs also emphasized that there can be a fine line to walk when empowering and pushing staff to make their own decisions, but also creating a safe culture in the office for them to come with questions.

Association Management Idea Lab: Running a Meeting
In this session, Andrew Hammontree, director of financial aid at Francis Tuttle Technology Center, and Vedder discussed best practices in association management for leading board meetings to ensure an effective and open conversation. From preparation and rules of order, to setting expectations and managing different personality styles, Hammontree and Vedder walked through building a team for a board, facilitating meetings, serving as a president or chair, and more. It’s important, they said, to have a varied set of skills, such as sparking conversations while remaining on task, engaging the team, knowing the atmosphere of the room and responding appropriately, and being able to build future leaders. “Leaders are visionaries,” Hammontree said. “Managers tend to focus on the status quo.”

Strategic Enrollment Management Idea Lab: SEM & the Crossover to Student Affairs
Dr. Stanley Henderson, senior consultant at the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) Consulting, and Sheila Jane Kuhn, vice president of enrollment management and student affairs at Northern Arizona University, concluded the Strategic Enrollment Management pathway with a session on how strategic enrollment management can intersect with student affairs issues. The two discussed enrollment management’s connection to academics. An enrollment manager’s “chief allies will be the academic leadership of the campus, those who understand best the academic character of the institution,” Henderson explained. “The first step … is … arming oneself with an understanding of what makes the place tick academically. Enrollment structure follows academic understanding, and therein lies the future of enrollment management,” he said. Strategic enrollment management can serve as a bridge, they said, to join together other parts of a campus, connecting the academic affairs side to what some refer to as the “touchy-feely” student affairs side. “We, as EM people, have that responsibility to teach and to provide data,” Henderson said, noting that faculty and other colleagues on campus are more data- and research-inclined. “If you can give them data, that’s a big help for them.”

 

Publication Date: 2/27/2019


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