MVP: Most Valuable Professional is an occasional series that features a brief Q&A with a different NASFAA member. Do you know a financial aid colleague with something interesting to say? Send the names of potential future MVPs and a short note about why you're nominating them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meet Howard Leslie. Howard has worked in financial aid for 43 years. After graduating with three undergraduate degrees in music and theater and a master's degree in psychology, Howard got his start in the profession as a guidance counselor at a career school helping students access financial aid. Howard then joined the financial aid office at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, where he quickly became the director of student finance and remained for 20 years. Howard then spent a year as a consultant at PeopleSoft, where one of his responsibilities was helping Wake Forest College of Medicine implement its Admissions Module, before returning home to New York to serve as the dean of student financial services at Monroe College. After spending 10 years there, Howard accepted a position as the vice president of financial aid at Berkeley College overseeing 10 campuses, where he has worked for almost 11 years.
Throughout his career, Howard has assisted NASFAA with its advocacy efforts and has presented at multiple NASFAA conferences. In addition, Howard is currently the president of the New York State Financial Aid Administrators Association (NYSFAAA), and has been active in multiple state and regional associations such as the Florida Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (FASFAA), the Georgia Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (GASFAA), the Eastern Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (EASFAA), and the New Jersey Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NJASFAA). Howard was a co-trainer for the Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA) for many years, and has traveled across the country presenting about the importance of student financial literacy on behalf of the Department of Education (ED).
How have you experienced innovation in your career in financial aid?
I have been introduced as "the great innovator of our time." A partial list of my endeavors would include being part of the original Education Loan Management (ELM), National Student Loan Database System (NSLDS), and G5 efforts. I was the first to exchange data with the Central Processing System (CPS) and certify an electronic federal student loan, and originated and implemented the concept of pre-approvals for PLUS Loans. While at Monroe College, I created a New York State Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) Module for Datatel Colleague, a software suite that is still being used by dozens of colleges in the state.
If you could change something about the current financial aid system, what would it be?
I think ED is going in the right direction now concerning technology, but I would give students more access and choices to work off their loans. I also think FSA needs to focus more on student financial literacy as a requirement for Title IV institutions.
This month is Financial Aid Awareness Month. What is the most important piece of information you would tell students looking for ways to fund their higher education?
When looking for a college, keep financing in mind, and find the best college that you can afford. For example, don't live in a dorm if you can live at home. At the same time, you can also strive to attend your dream college. To accomplish that, early in high school you should get involved in community service and excel in as many things as possible, which will not only help you get into the college of your choice, but also earn scholarships to make it cost-possible.
What advice would you give to financial aid professionals attempting to help students through the process of applying for financial aid?
Listen to your students, understand who they are. You cannot help them if you do not know their problems. Always go the extra mile to find as many options as you can for them because if we do not, who will?
What motivates you to work hard?
I inherited my work ethic from my father, who used to get up at 5:00 a.m. to get to his store. At one point, I was getting up at 3:30 a.m. to run my six miles and get to the School of Visual Arts at 6:00 a.m. — I had my own key. I am a bit more normal now, but still a workaholic.
If you could share a meal with any three individuals, living or dead, who would they be?
Moses, because I would like to hear about the waters parting and more. Davy Crocket, because I want to tell him I wish I was at the Alamo to protect him with a Boeing B-52 Stratofortress. Jerry Lewis, because he was, in my opinion, the greatest comedian of all time. I actually had a family member, by marriage, that was supposed to introduce him to me. It never happened.
What job would you be terrible at?
Being the secretary of a council. I cannot listen and take notes at the same time.
What is on your desk right now?
The action figures Gizmo from "Gremlins," Groot from "Guardians of the Galaxy," and Snoopy — as well as a Simon and Garfunkel CD.
Want to say hello to Howard or reply to something he said? Please leave your remarks in the comments section below. You can also take a look back at our past MVPs to read any you missed the first time around.
Do you know a financial aid colleague with something interesting to say? Send the names of potential future MVPs and a short note about why you're nominating them to email@example.com.
Publication Date: 2/12/2020