Over 400 financial aid professionals — the largest number in the conference’s history — convened in Washington, D.C. on Monday for NASFAA's Leadership & Legislative Conference & Expo to grow professionally, learn, network, and become a leader on their campus.
At Monday’s opening session, NASFAA President and CEO Justin Draeger asked audience members to think about what issues related to financial aid keep them up at night. At the top of many attendees’ minds were issues related to FAFSA simplification, including whether the 2024-25 FAFSA will launch on October 1.
On Tuesday morning, Melanie Storey, deputy director of policy implementation and oversight at the Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA), will give a presentation on FAFSA simplification. Draeger reminded the crowd that the law requires the FAFSA to be opened by January 1, which the Department of Education (ED) said it will follow.
“We'll have some colleagues who have graciously said they would come over and chat with us tomorrow morning and we'll press them and ask that question,” Draeger said. “But I would say let's listen closely. I don't know if we'll get new information. But as near as we can tell, they have never said that the FAFSA will be available on October 1. They will be compliant with the law. And if I was a school issuing aid offers before January 1 based on FAFSA, I would be doing contingency planning right now.”
Members also highlighted other issues, including increased scrutiny around financial aid, navigating professional judgment, aid offers, staffing capacity, the end of pandemic flexibilities, struggles hiring Federal Work-Study (FWS) students, and more.
The multi-day conference separates attendees into five different pathways where they can speak about these issues with their peers. Over the first two days, members will learn new skills to serve as state and regional association leaders, pick up new strategies for compliance management, master enrollment management strategies using fiscal management and ethics, focus on succession planning strategies, and network and explore important issues facing the financial aid community.
Draeger noted that many conference attendees have Hill visits scheduled later this week with congressional offices from their home districts to advocate and give policymakers on-the-ground perspective about financial aid. Attendees will advocate for multiple issues, including doubling the Pell Grant and congressional funding for federal student aid.
“I’d like to get us all to think about, particularly those who are going on Capitol Hill … the basics of financial aid — to provide access first and foremost, and to some extent, choice in higher education,” Draeger said. “We also need to think about funding, funding, funding. We've seen some pretty significant increases to the Pell Grant over the last couple of years. And it's sometimes easy to take those for granted. Those increases are very much at risk going forward.”
Finally, Draeger reminded attendees of the great work they do in making postsecondary education affordable and accessible to students.
“I see the work that we do in financial aid as a pretty integral part of contributing to the successes that are still ahead of us,” Draeger said. “You're all a part of that work. I'm really grateful to be part of supporting you as you do that work.”
Members attending the conference shared their experience so far. Rocell Flores, senior coordinator of financial aid at California State University Channel Islands, is attending the NASFAA leadership conference for the first time, under the strategic enrollment management pathway. She said she sees this as an opportunity to take information back to her financial aid office.
“I really am looking forward to learning and hopefully gaining a lot of insight about being a leader,” Flores. “I wanted to learn more about how we can go ahead and be involved in enrollment management. That’s my goal.”
Meredith Schor, director of financial aid at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, is attending the FAAC® Forum, and said she has enjoyed the discussion among attendees. She notes that Blue Icon Advisors has given attendees good direction on policies and procedures of federal student aid regulations.
Sharmain Lazard-Talbert, director of financial aid and interim director of enrollment services at Southern University at Shreveport, Louisiana, is the president-elect of the Louisiana Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (LASFAA) and was a member of the 2020-21 Diversity Leadership Program class.
“During that time, it was a COVID year, so I was able to participate in this conference virtually,” Lazard-Talbert said. “So I was looking at a different opportunity to be able to network and to gain leadership skills. I’m hoping to just learn, help build my association, and grow as a financial aid professional.”
Lazard-Talbert said that during the first day of the conference she learned more on how to collaborate and find support from other NASFAA members.
“I knew this already, but it was just fine-tuned in our presentation — just leaning on NASFAA members,” Lazard-Talbert said. “Although we may come from various backgrounds, we do encounter a lot of the same challenges, not just within our offices, but also within institutions. And at the end of the day, our goal is to be able to help our students exceed their educational goals, to stay in compliance, and to bring relevant training information to our members.”
Be sure to keep up with NASFAA's social media channels throughout the week for updates and photos from the conference, and utilize the hashtag #NASFAALeads23 to keep up with what members are talking about!
Publication Date: 2/7/2023