Blue Icon's First Year Marked by Expansion and Adaptation

One year ago, NASFAA officially launched Blue Icon Advisors, a consulting service to help colleges, universities, and career schools with financial aid compliance, operations, training, staffing, and professional coaching.

The service has grown substantially in the past year as a NASFAA entity — which was unanimously approved by the NASFAA Board of Directors in 2018 — and plans to offer additional services as it continues to serve the financial aid community.

“The work we did early on to launch Blue Icon — the member research and strategic brainstorming about the services we could offer — was really exciting,” said Mindy Eline, executive director of Blue Icon. 

Blue Icon, which leverages NASFAA’s resources and expands NASFAA's ability to offer services to institutions, in its first year has worked on more than 30 projects with roughly two dozen clients requesting work on a variety of projects.

“In its first year, Blue Icon Advisors has truly become a trusted advisor to many institutions across the country,” said NASFAA President Justin Draeger. “From helping coach new aid directors or creating onboarding processes for new staff, to facilitating peer-to-peer discussion sessions, Blue Icon has helped expand NASFAA’s ability to fulfill its mission to serve the financial aid community.”

Tony Erwin, principal consultant at Blue Icon, said the scope of the projects has evolved since Blue Icon's launch, which has been both exciting and rewarding.

“The work that we've done has taken us in directions that we didn't anticipate, but have been really valuable,” Erwin said.

Projects have included full evaluations of office operations and of student services, facilitating retreats for financial aid staff, helping institutions with their organizational structure and operational models, and assisting institutions with policies and procedures ranging from reviewing specific compliance efforts to working with institutions from scratch to create their entire policies and procedures manual.

“Working with schools on their policies and procedures is an adventure,” said Karen Hanley, client engagement associate. “No two schools are alike so it keeps me on my compliance toes. I’m tackling something new and different each and every day.”

Outside of these school-specific requests, Blue Icon has a number of services it provides, which the team heavily researched and tested prior to its launch.

The team conducted a NASFAA member survey early on and asked what services members would like to see from Blue Icon. Those ideas were then sorted and prioritized, Eline said. One of the ideas from the survey was training for new directors, which was tested in fall 2019, and led to the creation of the Group Coaching for new directors.

“New Director Group Coaching has been fantastically successful as we draw from our own experiences, share best practices, and guide participants though important foundational elements that are critical for new financial aid leaders,” said Tammy Harrison, senior consultant at Blue Icon.

Additionally, Blue Icon has been hosting a “Let's Talk” peer-to-peer series to bring together financial aid professionals from the same sector to share best practices during the global COVID-19 pandemic, and recently launched Executive Coaching for seasoned financial aid and enrollment management professionals. 

When it comes to specific projects, the team has tackled a number of pressing institutional challenges.

“We had a school that we worked with that was experiencing substantial turnover in entry level  positions in their financial aid office and asked us to work with them on a plan to solve the problem,” Erwin said. “[It] turned into a coaching experience for the director and the leadership team focused on onboarding and new staff training best practices for the office.”

Many of these requests have given Blue Icon ideas for future services. 

“For instance, we are developing a new Student Satisfaction Data Center where we will be able to compare one school’s student satisfaction survey responses to a larger data set,” said Mandy Sponholtz, Blue Icon’s director of operations. “We’re also building on the success of our New Director Group Coaching program by developing a group coaching experience for aspiring directors."

Ultimately, Blue Icon services aim to be adaptable to the needs of institutions. 

“We're trying very hard to meet the needs of the schools, no matter where they fall,” Eline said.

As the team embarks on their second year, they have plans to implement and expand on their initially provided products, such as branching out into new group coaching areas. 

Equipped for a COVID-19 Landscape 

Prior to the outbreak of the coronavirus, Blue Icon had worked on remote projects, which at the time were outliers. 

“We had a school in a very remote location, and they needed an interim director,” Eline said. “We didn't have anybody who could go to this remote location so we set them up with a remote director, which at the time was very unique and now it's not.”

Due to this project, the Blue Icon team was well prepared for implementing remote-based projects.

“When COVID happened, all of our current projects became remote work, and we already had the processes set up. We already knew how to do it and what it would take and so it was seamless,” Eline said. 

In terms of operating in a post-coronavirus world, Eline said Blue Icon is prepared since the team operates remotely, and has been able to adjust to the challenges put forward by the virus when it comes to keeping clients engaged.

“We are fortunate, too, that our amazing team of independent consultants are great teleworkers and they were all able to adapt to a completely remote environment very quickly,” Eline said. 

Erwin said COVID-19 has exposed challenges to school operations and has highlighted gaps to their services for students. 

“As we head into year two we are anticipating demand for custom training and coaching programs to help institutions develop and support their financial aid leadership and staff. We're really focused on that from a service offering right now,” Erwin said.

Moving forward, Erwin said he is hopeful that Blue Icon’s track record from its first year will attract additional institutions and projects needing support in their financial aid operations and capability. 

“We are a good provider of those services to institutions as we’ve learned that many are seeing gaps that have been exposed by the disruption of COVID-19,” Erwin said. “We're ready to help them, regardless of where the starting point is, and we are excited to take on those projects in year two.”


Publication Date: 6/3/2020

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