A Decade of Personalized Financial Aid Learning: NASFAA U Marks 10th Anniversary

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Senior Staff Reporter

Online coursework has become ubiquitous in recent years, but for NASFAA the virtual world and online instruction have been tools that financial aid professionals have long had access to, with NASFAA U’s online facilitated courses marking their 10th year of operation.

By keeping professionals in financial aid up to date and trained on regulatory and administrative capabilities, the NASFAA U platform has continued to provide niche, in-depth coursework that has offered personalized options to encourage interactive learning.

While webinars and hour-long training sessions offered many in the profession a handy guide to a given topic, David Tolman, instructional design & content specialist and NASFAA U instructor, noted that some regulations couldn’t be covered in that time and needed a more in-depth discussion — which prompted the creation of NASFAA’s online courses.

“Some topics just need more attention to really train on the details of it and to allow a full understanding of the whole aspect of a topic, like cost of attendance or packaging,” Tolman said. “Those were two of the early courses that we did. NASFAA U was created to provide a broader base — not just changes to a topic, but covering all aspects of a topic.”

NASFAA U has since grown, offering 10 courses for 2022-23 on topics ranging from the fundamentals of enrollment management to administrative capability. With NASFAA’s virtual platform and growing demand for the course offerings, instructors can tailor the instruction to the needs of all students.

While some courses are smaller, other offerings like the popular return of Title IV funds course can have up to as many as 135 in the class. No matter the size, all offer a wide variety of tools like customized reading resources, video lessons, discussion forums, quizzes, and more interactive learning tools.

“The platform allows us to make it a more personal experience,” Tolman said. “It's not just 100 people logging in at the same time to listen to an instructor. There are a lot of things that go on in a NASFAA U course beyond just the direct, twice-weekly instruction.”

Dana Kelly, NASFAA vice president of professional development and institutional compliance, explained that the variety of coursework and teaching modalities make NASFAA U courses accessible to different types of learners.

“For example, you get videos for instruction, you get reading assignments, you get in-course assessments — things that really help people who learn in different ways,” Kelly said. “Participants can find an avenue that's right for them so that concepts really stick and really begin to make sense.”

When it comes to case study work, NASFAA U offers a hands-on approach, with professionals walking participants through real life scenarios that can impact their day-to-day operations.

“We have practicing financial aid administrators teaching those hands-on sessions because they're the ones that have the situations that come up on campuses all the time,” Tolman said. “They're always credentialed in that area.”

The coursework also gives a student access to networking opportunities by comparing their experiences with their peers at other institutions.

NASFAA U has also gone through a number of innovations in recent years with the development of its learning management system, which has allowed instructors to better respond to the needs of participants.

For example, the NASFAA U team decided to make discussion questions an optional component of online courses after receiving feedback from participants that they would rather observe those discussions than be required to participate.

“We have also taken into account member participation through feedback surveys in terms of what it is they want, versus what it is they don't,” Kelly said. “We listen to what the participants want, and we try to provide that.”

It’s this sort of dynamic nature of the program that makes the course offerings so unique for financial aid professionals.

“You are actively learning and that is what I think sets it apart,” Kelly said. “It is a time commitment and the participant definitely gets out what they put in. For those who want that immersive experience into a topic, you only get that through a NASFAA U online course — you're not going to get that in any other medium.”

While higher education has had to go through many adjustments in just the last three years in order to tailor programming to the new realities of the pandemic, NASFAA U has been able to carry out its deliverables in an uninterrupted fashion.

“The beauty of NASFAA U was that the pandemic didn't slow us down one bit,” Kelly said.

Since the platform did not need to be retrofitted to a virtual delivery system NASFAA U has offered participants continuity.

“There was nothing different about NASFAA U, pre-pandemic, during the pandemic, or post-pandemic,” Kelly said. “It's always been the same platform, and just continues to work really well.”

As the profession becomes more complex and the offerings continue to grow, NASFAA U instructors are working to keep their materials updated as new regulations come into effect.

“I like the challenge of bringing some obscure concept into light where that light bulb just goes off to our attendees and they’re like ‘Okay, I understand that now.’ That is a very rewarding moment,” Tolman said. “Now that we have so many more courses, covering so many more topics, with so many more participants in each one of those courses, I'm really proud of the reach, how we've developed this from these couple of small courses into what we have now.”

Looking to enroll? Learn more about the upcoming class schedules, topics covered, and instructors for each of our online courses and register, visit our Online Courses page. For additional questions, please review the helpful guide of Online Course Frequently Asked Questions.


Publication Date: 9/19/2022

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