Meet Brad Barnett, FAAC®, NASFAA's 2022-23 National Chair!
Brad is the associate vice president for access and enrollment management and the director of financial aid and scholarships at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. More than two decades ago, Brad began his career in financial aid while working his way through graduate school in 1994-95 as a graduate assistant in Virginia Commonwealth University's Financial Aid Office.
Over the years, Brad has been active in financial aid associations at the state, regional, and national level as a presenter, committee member, chair, and elected officer. He also served as president of the Virginia Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (VASFAA) and the Southern Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (SASFAA).
At NASFAA, he served in various roles including treasurer, conference chair, Standards of Excellence (SOE) reviewer, SOE assessment leader, and a member of the Financial Affairs Committee.
As he begins his tenure as 2022-23 NASFAA national chair, Brad took some time to discuss with Today's News his goals for the next year and what inspires him as a financial aid professional.
TN: What do you think is the biggest issue facing the federal aid programs right now?
BB: That's a rather loaded question. We could probably go in any number of different directions. There's obviously low-hanging fruit like the loan repayment pause — how are things going to play out when it ends and will we get loan reform as part of the repayment pause ending? It's time for these programs to be simplified, for payment plans to be reduced, income-driven repayment to be easier, and origination fees to go away. So there's all sorts of things around that.
There's also kind of a big issue we're facing with just the loss of institutional knowledge and industry expertise. We're seeing more and more experienced aid officers retire and leave the field. We're seeing aid offices across the country having challenges in filling roles and positions not even for retired folks — just general roles and positions. So there's a challenge facing us with industry knowledge, retention, and filling slots.
Affordability is always one of those issues. We continue to talk about trying to double the Pell Grant and those types of things. Then obviously there's COVID. What happens when all the flexibilities go away? That's going to be something that schools are going to have to readapt to.
We could pick those or we could go in a totally different direction, but I actually think the biggest thing that's on my radar, personally and industrywide, is 2024-25. In 2024-25, when the new FAFSA comes out, the expected family contribution (EFC) goes away and the SAI comes about, that is literally a game-changer in the financial aid application and it needs analysis. My hope is that there's going to be more coming out from the Department of Education this year about the changes that will go into effect. The 2024-25 FAFSA rolls out in about 14 months, so we've got to start seeing some more information and schools have a lot of work to do between now and then to prepare for a brand new application and a brand new methodology. Even though those other things are really important for me, that seems to be one of the biggest issues facing us right now is getting ready for that change.
TN: What are your top three goals for your tenure as national chair of NASFAA?
BB: Sticking with that theme, it's trying to get more schools to start planning for 2024-25. NASFAA has this Student Aid Index Modeling Tool, which is an amazing tool, and is available to be used right now. My hope is to encourage a lot of schools this year who aren't using it to do so, and to figure out how this is going to impact their population as best they can. It's an estimation, it's not accurate. The new FAFSA is going to be so different that there's data that just doesn't exist right now that we can't even pull into a tool to use, but it's a very good tool. And having more Pell Grant eligibility for students is great. Frankly, that's never been a concern. For me, it's a good thing to have more Pell dollars. The bigger concern has been what happens at our institutions, when we see more needy students, and we're trying to fund them from institutional dollars or public institution state schools. Do we have the resources to account for the increased level of need we might see as a result of the new FAFSA and SAI? This tool will help you figure that out. It would be a mistake not to look at it and then walk into 2024-25 and be blindsided with an increased level of need and trying to ask for something at the 11th hour. We have the ability to really be leaders in this area.
Another thing is laying the groundwork for more of these things that are coming in the near future so we can prepare and try to get ahead of them. On the NASFAA board last year, we had a lot of discussions about in-depth issues that affect our industry. One of the blessings or benefits of rolling into the chair position is you have the opportunity to think through those things and then work with NASFAA on trying to come up with some task forces and ways to address those. So this year, I'm happy to say we're going to be rolling out three new task forces. One of them is going to be the task force on the resumption of loan payments. We're going to get a group of aid administrators together to start talking through some of the issues of what happens when this machine gets turned back on.
We'll have a task force that's going to focus on examining Federal Work-Study, which is another one I'm excited about because as we look at COVID exemptions expiring, schools are going to be back in a situation where they have older work-study rules, and they have to figure out what to do with it and how to spend it.
And then another new task force we're going to add is the task force on advancing the profession. One of the things we've seen throughout this COVID period is we've seen kind of a mass retirement of a lot of people. We have holes and vacancies to fill in the profession. A lot of aid offices are struggling to hire folks. The interesting thing is if you polled financial aid officers, and you ask them how many of you ever worked as a work-study student or in a financial aid office as a student, you're going to get a large number of hands that go up. But what we're hearing is financial aid offices are struggling to hire student employees in their office. So what impact does that have on the pipeline of our industry and hiring future folks to be financial aid officers? This task force is going to be talking about that. Also it's going to be dealing with how do we just advance our profession at our institutional level? How do we make sure we have a seat at the table and that we're seen as thought leaders and being able to bring something to the table from an enrollment management perspective — more than just the people processing the dollars, but people who can be involved in the bigger decisions?
There are so many other goals and sub-goals, but I think just one overriding goal to all of this is just encouragement. We have an amazing profession with some incredible people who deal with a lot and sometimes feel underappreciated or undervalued on their campuses. We have the ability to literally be course correctors for the lives of the students who we're serving — students who may have a very different path in life had it not been for the access that we provided them. I think we all could use a little bit of encouragement to stay the course and to get through the tough times, because we know that there's light at the end of the tunnel, and we have endured a lot. All these things that are coming up, I have no doubt in my mind, we can overcome them, and we can persevere and be stronger because of them.
TN: Who has been the biggest professional influence for you over the years, and why?
BB: If I was to try to sit here and name all of the people who've had an influence on me, this would be pretty long and invariably I'd forget some names, because one of the things about this business is if you get involved, people are always willing to lend a hand. With that said, if I had to give you a name, then the name I would give you is my old boss here, Lisa Tumer. She has since retired. One of the biggest ways she influenced me was when I first got here she really gave me freedom and pushed me to get involved. Part of that was by watching her level of involvement and the influence that she was able to have industrywide. Seeing that and just the power of being a part of something bigger than yourself and your school was a big influence.
TN: What is the best professional advice you have been given?
BB: Hands down, get involved. This is a hard profession to be in if you're isolated. It's complicated and it moves at a very fast pace. I can literally tell you I wouldn't be here today had it not been for the relationships that I've built with colleagues all across the country — people you can email, people you can call, people you serve on task forces with, and people you see throughout the year. Without that network, I don't really know that I would be where I am today.
TN: If I were not working in financial aid, I would…
BB: It depends on what age I was when you asked me this question. If I was back in high school, I would have told you I was going to be a basketball coach. I played basketball in high school and I thought I wanted to do that for a living. That changed and I went on to three or four other different things that I thought I wanted to do. Like almost everybody else, I just kind of fell into this career and love it and have been a part of it for a long time. But looking back now, at where I am and some of the things I've gotten the opportunity to do as a part of this role, Brad today would tell you I absolutely love being in the classroom on the college campus. I'm blessed to be able to teach two personal finance classes every semester at JMU, and it is an amazing experience to be in the classroom with students to help them figure out how they can prepare themselves for the life they want when they graduate.
TN: My most motivating financial aid experience was…
BB: I really think this is a question where I wonder how much I want to tell you. The reason I say that is I'm getting ready to go visit some of the regions and states to do NASFAA updates. I actually have a motivational story that's very personal to me and that leads into some of what we do as a profession that I will probably be sharing in those updates. So I think I'll hold that close to the vest for a bit so I can talk with people face-to-face when I see them in person.
TN: What’s on your summer reading list?
BB: I don't have anything really jazzy except I have, unfortunately, piles of Golf Digest magazines that I have not been able to get through yet. So my goal before the fall semester begins is to power through all my Golf Digest that have been piling up over the last several months because once school starts, most of my leisure reading time gets directed toward grading — that wonderful thing that we do. I'm going to try to push through that.
TN: What's the one thing you won't skip — or shorten — in the morning?
BB: That's not breakfast, right? Because it's the most important meal of the day. There's actually a couple things. One is while I'm eating breakfast, ironically, I do have this online Bible study group that I do with some guys every morning. It doesn't take a lot of time, but it's just one of those things that kind of starts my day while I'm eating my cereal and I feel kind of out of sorts if I ever skip that. And then mid-morning or around lunch, I have to walk out and I go to the gym on campus. If I don't get to the gym on campus, I am not the same person in the afternoon. It's a great place to just walk away and reset your mind. There’s a clarity of thought that comes to me when I'm not in the office — things that just pop into my mind because I'm doing something else. It would be hard for me to give up those two things.
TN: What gadget or app saves you the most time?
BB: This isn't really going to be a great answer that's going to give anybody any epiphanies, but I love the calendar function in Outlook. And for me, it's more than a calendar. I use the to-do list and the reminders like nobody's business. It's just the stuff I have out there — it's weeks and months in advance. I actually have stuff put out there for years in advance. The calendar feature and the reminders of the things to do on a daily basis are so I don't forget. I just have them continuously pop up until I get rid of them, meaning by doing the actual task at hand. I think that saves me the most time. It helps keep me organized and it helps keep me from having to remember the things I have to do all the time, because it just yells at me and tells me I need to do something.
TN: What NASFAA service/product is most helpful to you?
BB: Hands down, AskRegs. If you just looked at what people get a lot of value out of — there's a lot of value that NASFAA adds to the industry, of course — but in the past year, we've had about 10,000 AskRegs questions that have come through and been answered. The volume is just amazing. The staff who monitor AskRegs, the accuracy and speed at which they get answers out is second to none. It's the go-to. If I have a question that I don't know the answer to, before I start digging and researching anywhere else, I will usually pull up AskRegs and put the question in there. In almost all cases, there's a question that's already been asked and answered that'll either give me the answer or put me on the path to get the answer. AskRegs is one of the best things NASFAA ever created and the staff who do it are absolutely amazing.
Leave your welcome messages, comments, and congratulations to Brad in the comments section below!
Publication Date: 8/12/2022