As the population of students entering higher education continues to diversify, more efforts are being taken to ensure college campuses provide a culture of inclusion and address the unique needs of underserved students.
NASFAA's Diversity Leadership Program (DLP) seeks to bring this conversation into the realm of higher education leadership. Unveiled in 2018, the program provides individuals from identified underrepresented groups in the association community with support, access, and opportunities for leadership.
To get a better idea of how issues involving diversity manifest in the world of higher education and financial aid, we spoke with NASFAA's recently appointed Diversity Officer Scott Skaro, financial aid director at United Tribes Technical College, about his experiences and what he believes are the biggest struggles facing aid administrators from diverse backgrounds today.
TN: What are your main goals as NASFAA's Diversity Officer?
SS: The pandemic has amplified educational inequities that have always existed. NASFAA — its leadership and members — has an opportunity right now. We're in some historic times where people are really looking at diversity and how people have been historically marginalized. I think when it really comes down to it, all of us really need to listen to the students and communities we serve. A lot of people will talk and talk and talk, but not everybody listens. There are a lot of unique perspectives out there in this country. I think this is a really good opportunity for us to lead some change that will make it possible for more people to succeed in higher education.
As a Native American, recent events such as the removal of Columbus statues and removing the Washington Redskins name — that's stuff that I've thought about for years. It's exciting to see the winds of change right now. I think we're entering a time when people are more motivated right now to restructure and reform, and I think that's exciting.
TN: Why were you interested in serving as NASFAA's Diversity Officer?
SS: I've been serving on the committee for the Diversity Leadership Program since 2018, since the inception. I've really loved reading the people's essays and I've been really excited about the program. I think it's a very innovative way of getting minorities into leadership roles and other types of tasks for similar positions within NASFAA.
TN: Why is diversity important to higher education and the financial aid profession?
SS: I think what it comes down to is that everybody's just looking for an opportunity. We have to be honest with ourselves about our nation's history. When seeking out opportunities, not everybody's starting at the same starting line. We need to ensure that people who have been marginalized have access to education and can use that education to get jobs that help them succeed and provide for themselves and their families. If students see a financial aid officer who looks like them, who has overcome similar adversity, has completed college, and is now gainfully employed, it gives the students hope for their own futures. In addition, a financial officer can empathize with the students because she or he understands their culture and background.
TN: What unique struggles do underrepresented workers in our profession face?
SS: I worked for a Fortune 500 company, and they were one of the only companies that had an African American CEO. As of right now, there are only four African American CEOs and there are only 37 female CEOs.
Just based on those numbers alone, I think this just shows that there still needs to be work done. For me, the most important lesson I ever learned working in a corporate environment is that the company told us they want their company to look like the customers they serve, with the same diversity as the customers they serve. I think that's a lesson not just for NASFAA, but for a lot of organizations in the country to strive for.
TN: How can NASFAA's Diversity Leadership Program help frame a future of inclusion in higher education?
SS: Seeing people that are like you in positions of power, in positions of influence, I think it can be an inspiration. Just seeing that makes you want to work toward something like that. For me, I started off working on the Assessing Tuition- and Debt-Free Higher Education Task Force with NASFAA and I just found myself getting more and more involved with the organization, especially with the Diversity Leadership Program. I could see more of our alumni moving up and advancing to leadership roles. New members can identify with those people, and it can be an inspiration.
TN: What do you think institutions of higher education need to do in the wake of COVID-19 to foster a culture of inclusion?
SS: I think what we're finding right now is that a lot of minority populations are still in poverty. With the COVID-19 situation, we're moving to more digital platforms to deliver education and we're finding a lot of minority populations may not have the technology, tools, internet access, or work space to not only be successful, but even participate in those platforms.
The spring is when we found a lot of elementary education being forced online, and I think there's a lot of data and information that's coming out of that showing that there's a big group of our population that we may be losing, just because they don't have access. That's something we need to be on top of right away, and try and help those groups out. The inequities brought by COVID-19 will affect students' academic proficiency for years to come. Colleges and universities need to plan not only for fall 2020, but for many years in the future. The first hurdle is to ensure everyone has access to education, from preschool through college, and financial aid officers play a large role in making sure students have the funding they need. I'm honored to be NASFAA's Diversity Officer and be part of the solution.
Scott can be reached via email at [email protected].
Publication Date: 7/15/2020