Creating, implementing, or overhauling a policies and procedures (P&P) manual is one of those tasks on a financial aid office’s to-do list that directors often struggle to allocate time for.
With seemingly constantly changing federal student aid regulations, aid offices often find themselves scrambling to update their P&P manual at the last second. That’s where Blue Icon Advisors can come in to help, with a team of independent consultants who have a background in creating and reviewing P&Ps.
As director of financial aid at Montgomery County Community College in Pennsylvania, Christal Chatman, FAAC® knows first hand how difficult it can be to find time to tackle P&Ps.
“For a lot of financial aid administrators, it's difficult to find the time in the normal work week to focus on policies and procedures because we're providing customer service, a lot of us are involved in implementing Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds (HEERF), and many other challenges that we've been facing,” she said. “Most of us would probably have to do it after hours.”
So, she decided to put her skills to work and became an independent consultant with Blue Icon to lend her time after work and between her personal commitments as a wife and mom to help aid offices with their P&Ps.
Chatman said she enjoys taking on a P&P project for an aid office because she approaches it as a new challenge, it sharpens her skills to apply at her own office, and she brushes up on her knowledge of compliance.
Chatman and other independent consultants contracted by Blue Icon utilize NASFAA’s P&P Builder to help identify missing pieces and ensure the entire project is all in one place.
Independent consultants can also work hand-in-hand with staff at aid offices to write P&Ps and implement best practices.
Joe Peterson, the senior regulatory analyst for Adtalem Global Education and formerly a senior institutional review specialist at the Department of Education, has helped several aid offices build their P&P manuals and is fond of those projects because he can work on them on his own schedule.
Peterson said he juggles his responsibilities by squeezing in work as an independent consultant before he starts his full-time job, or in the evening without missing too much family time. Working from home and living in a different time zone from where his institution is located are also advantages that allow him to carve out extra time for consulting work.
“Being an independent contractor, I get some flexibility to work with the school and figure out what works best for them and what works best for me,” he said. “We have some check-in meetings once every two weeks or so, and otherwise, it's a lot of Google Docs back and forth on what section we might be working on in the P&P Builder.”
Chatman also stressed the flexibility that comes from working with Blue Icon and being able to pick and choose which projects she takes on, depending on how much time she feels she’s able to commit.
“We can do it when we're available,” she said. “There are so many tools, especially now with the pandemic, we're really learning how to work virtually. We have the ability to have a quick Zoom meeting and not have to travel.”
The outside perspective is invaluable when it comes to something as important and in the weeds as P&Ps, Chatman added. She knows the schedule of a financial aid director can be overwhelming, and helping aid offices address their P&Ps is her way of giving back.
Both Chatman and Peterson said utilizing their years of experience in financial aid across several sectors of higher education provides them a way to continue to sharpen their skills, help aid offices, and put their knowledge and skills to work.
“Sometimes you get seasoned and you don't really dig anymore … sometimes you kind of sit there and just go through it,” Peterson said. “But [working as an independent consultant] keeps you on your toes and keeps you aware of what's happening in a very large industry.”
Publication Date: 2/2/2022