Voices From the Aid Office: Presenting to the Board of Trustees – Be Not Afraid!

Voices from the Aid Office

Michael BennettVoices from the Aid Office is an occasional series designed to feature the thoughts and opinions of NASFAA members working on campus. The opinions offered and statements made do not imply endorsement by NASFAA or guarantee the accuracy of information presented.

By Michael J. Bennett, Associate Vice President, Financial Assistance Services, St. Petersburg College, and Past NASFAA National Chair, 2007-08

A few weeks ago, I was asked to put together a five-minute presentation on the positive impact of financial aid for an upcoming Board of Trustees meeting. That was the same "five minutes" I would receive for presenting on other topics to the Board, like funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, cohort default rates, or "bad debt."

When I shared the news of the upcoming presentation with a colleague, he immediately commented that he felt they were a waste of time. In my opinion, we shouldn't see these meetings as a waste of time, but rather an opportunity to develop an important and ongoing relationship, and ensure the Board understands key financial aid issues and challenges.

If we don't assist with that, who does?

The challenge, however, is always the time limit of five minutes. NASFAA President Justin Draeger recently shared some advice for how to make an impact in these types of presentations where you have limited time, but a powerful audience. College presidents, he said, need things in digestible, short bullets. Boiling your presentation down to the absolute salient points that tell your story, get resources, and help you serve students makes the most impact.

I took that advice and formatted our presentation to feature "impact" bullets that highlighted important facts like:

  • The 10 channels where students get their questions answered.
  • How 17,200 students received $10.8 million of CARES funds and how CARES institutional funds covered $1.2 million of COVID-related outstanding balances for 3,000 students.
  • How our cohort default rate went from 22% to a projected rate of 3.5%.
  • Why professional development matters and how the financial aid office represents the university with students, in the community, and in leadership roles.
  • How we've decreased student borrowing by $55 million in eight years.
  • That our office has had no audit findings over the past 12 years.

Providing salient points is the beginning of building a relationship with trustees, and then it is complimented by further earning their respect when they reach out to us directly, one student at a time.

One of our Board members and our president are champions of our students who attend our Downtown and MidTown campuses and won't hesitate to call my cell phone. That ongoing relationship with our neediest student helps me establish and maintain important business partnerships for curing defaulted loans and innovative technology solutions, like a chatbot.

Since I'm presenting the work of others, I always wrestle with honoring my staff in Board of Trustees presentations — staff who work around the clock, weekends, and holidays. If we weren't limited to five minutes, I'd involve my staff in presentations to draw on their depth of knowledge. A seemingly simple question like, "How do students get their questions answered?" could have a complex answer involving multiple tools, like webpages, videos, emails, robocalls, social media, a call center, online questions, a chatbot, cyber advising, or coming to campus — and I would never pretend to know all the details.

If you've done Board presentations in the past, you know there will be questions you can't answer and you have to smile and say, "That is an excellent question, and I'll have to get back to you on the answer." 

In the end, the best advice I can give you is to have confidence. Don't be afraid when presenting to trustees, presidents, colleagues, or parents and students. You and your staff are the experts — and that's why you've been asked to present in the first place!

What are your thoughts regarding Board of Trustee presentations? What techniques have helped you build relationships with the Board of Trustees or your college president or supervisor?

To assist you with future presentations to institutional leadership, you can utilize NASFAA's "What Financial Aid Administrators Do" PowerPoint, which outlines four key groups financial aid administrators serve — students and families, the institution, the community, and the president's office — and delves into eight major functional areas of the college with which the financial aid office interacts.


Publication Date: 6/10/2021

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