When Bill Spiers, the financial aid director at Tallahassee Community College (TCC), heard that Florida was facing a ban on tuition increases, he knew that funds to support the travel and training for his staff would be the first to go. That’s why he decided to run a free, weekly professional development course out of his own aid office—using materials from classes he had taken through NASFAA U.
NASFAA U is a nationally-recognized program that offers courses in administering financial aid for both new and seasoned professionals. Plus, completing a course is one requirement to sit for a NASFAA professional credentialing exam in that topic. Spiers, who has worked in higher education for 40 years and served as a director of financial aid since 1983, has earned seven credentials.
“If I didn’t keep up myself, I’d grow stale,” Spiers says. “I’m a firm believer that you have to continuously learn.”
Facing budget cuts two years ago, Spiers began searching for a way to also keep his staff current on regulations and processes for a low cost.
“I asked myself, what materials can I use to train my staff? Probably the best ones I had available to me were the NASFAA U materials,” Spiers says. “We just started systematically going through the modules, and taking our time.”
Since then, every Friday morning between 8:00 and 9:00 a.m., Spiers gathers his financial aid staff and delves into the materials he downloaded from classes he took. To date, the group at TCC has made it through seven modules, including a course on verification—which Spiers revisits each year—satisfactory academic progress (SAP), and the FAFSA application process. The staff is currently working its way through a module on administrative capability, which Spiers says gives his aid administrators on the front line an insight into what he does behind the scenes. Spiers also plans on teaching courses on the return of Title IV aid (R2T4) and campus-based programs.
“That time with my staff is very important, because this is a time we can talk in a more collaborative mode,” Spiers says. “Some mornings we just make it through a few slides. It’s a chance to ask questions and it’s less threatening. We’re all learning together, I believe that helps for staff comradery.”
Since he began the training sessions, Spiers said he can see a change in his staff “in the way that they talk to students.” When students come in with questions, he said, “they don’t just answer, ‘Well that’s just the way it is,’ they can explain why.” Spiers also said he noticed a difference in his staffs’ attitudes, adding that they appreciate knowing the reasons behind processes.
This year, Spiers said four staff members took credentialing exams—using money in his budget to pay for them—and that others are interested in taking a test..
Spiers advised other financial aid professionals looking to use NASFAA U materials to train their staff to take some of the credentialing exams to better prepare themselves to teach the material. He also suggested that they develop a plan on what they want to teach, in what order they want to teach it, and choose modules best suited to the needs of their office.
“Look at your budget and see how much has been cut from training, then secure permission to close [for] an hour a week for staff training,” Spiers said.
Finally, to get an institution on board, Spiers suggested that financial aid professionals “explain the importance of keeping your staff prepared, and keeping the institution compliant.”
Find out more about NASFAA U courses.
Our members are constantly going above and beyond to help their students succeed in higher education. NASFAA's Member Spotlight stories feature initiatives that our members have pursued that exceed the traditional scope of responsibilities of a financial aid office. If your university or financial aid office has taken on a project or unique efforts to help students, please reach out to us at [email protected].
Publication Date: 7/25/2019