MVP: Most Valuable Professional is an occasional series that features a brief Q&A with a different NASFAA member. Do you know a financial aid colleague with something interesting to say? Send the names of potential future MVPs and a short note about why you're nominating them to [email protected].
Meet Heidi Carl. Heidi got her start in financial aid when she was working as a program director for the YMCA of Greater Indianapolis, a job she held for eight years.
When considering if she should try a different career, Heidi’s human resources (HR) director at the YMCA suggested she speak with her best friend, the HR director of the University of Indianapolis, to learn more about working in higher education. From there, she ultimately decided to interview with that HR manager for a hybrid position that worked between the university’s IT, programming, and financial aid teams.
“I remember sitting there thinking ‘Me? Financial aid, really?’ because when I went through grad school, I always thought I would work more in student affairs, housing, or student programming,” Heidi said. “But I thought, well, it can't hurt to interview. And the rest is history.”
Heidi said after accepting the position, she learned a lot about the behind the scenes of making financial aid work.
At the University of Indianapolis, Heidi was promoted to the associate director of financial aid. From there, she served as both the associate dean for enrollment and director of financial aid at Wabash College. Now, she serves as the executive director of financial aid at Purdue University.
Heidi has a history of volunteering for both NASFAA and the Midwest Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (MASFAA). Heidi is currently the MASFAA representative on NASFAA’s Board of Directors. She’s also currently on NASFAA’s Under-Resourced Schools Scholarship Task Force. At MASFAA, Heidi serves as the immediate past president and was president of the association last year.
Learn more about Heidi, her interests, and her career path in the Q&A below!
What do you find the most rewarding and fulfilling about your work?
I would start with the students that we serve, with helping students and families figure out college affordability and how to make it work for their family. A close second for me is motivating our team to think creatively and to maximize their strengths to serve students. I love working with the staff that I have here at Purdue. They're amazing people. And I love when we get together and brainstorm better ways to serve students.
If you could change one thing about financial aid, what would it be?
I wish that we had more capacity with high school counselors to help them become knowledgeable and comfortable to help families in comparing costs and thinking about financing all four years of a college degree. Families build a rapport and a relationship with those counselors at their high schools, and they're trusted advisors. And because of all of the other tasks that high school counselors have to do, they just don't have enough time to really sit down with families and help them think through planning and financing for college. I wish that we could be better advocates or have more help in high schools to help students.
Tell us about your institution. What are some unique aspects of Purdue University?
Probably the biggest one that most people know about Purdue is that we've had frozen tuition for 12 years now. Both tuition and our basic housing and meals have been the same price for 12 years running. We've graduated three cohorts of four-year students, and they've paid the exact same the entire time.
We have both the Purdue Promise program, which helps our neediest students, and the 21st Century Scholars program, where we meet full need in grant funds for those students. We also have our Boiler Gold Grant to help families with $80,000 adjusted gross income or less to meet the cost of tuition, fees, and books with gift aid money. Those are a few of the ways that we're really trying to be creative and help families think about keeping their borrowing limited.
What's something you wish all higher ed folks knew about financial aid?
One of the biggest things that I wish all higher ed folks knew is how everyone in this profession cares deeply for students and we really want to help students. Sometimes with all of the rules and regulations that we have to uphold and abide by, it can appear that we don't want to help students. But we're required to be stewards of the limited taxpayer dollars that were given. To be good stewards, and to make sure that we're acting according to the laws, rules, and regulations, sometimes we are looked at as, “Oh, they're the ones who always say no,” or “They're the ones who make it difficult.” And that's not the case at all.
We get into this profession because we want to make college a level playing field for any student who wants to attain a higher education degree. And I think sometimes our fellow higher ed folks don't really see the full scope of the work that we do.
How have you experienced innovation in your career in financial aid?
I think especially since I started in the automation and programming side of things, to be able to take what used to be a pen-and-paper process and help families almost completely automate it. I think we learned this a lot through the pandemic, because we had to rethink ways to be able to help students, whether it be verification, or borrowing loans, or figuring out how to sign up for payment plans, many of our processes are automated. Almost every school adopted virtual counseling for families to better understand their aid offers and be able to talk through all the specifics of financial aid. I think those are some of the innovative things that I've seen come about in my time.
Do you have any recommendations for people just getting started in the field?
It's probably one that you've heard 100 times before, but definitely get involved and volunteer. I think one of the biggest recommendations I have is to find a mentor, find somebody who's going to be your cheerleader, who's going to cheer you up on the tough days, and celebrate with you on the great days. And then pay it back. Once you've found somebody who's in your corner and is a mentor for you, then find somebody you can be a mentor for. That's the thing I love about financial aid, it's like finding a mentor, and then being a mentor. There are so many people in my life I know who were there for me and encouraged me early in my career. And I try to pay it back tenfold as much as I can.
What's helped you the most in getting through the past year?
I have to go back to the team here at Purdue. They are just a fantastic group of professionals. They are all just so focused on serving students and helping families. They're my rock. Even when I'm out traveling to various states or doing NASAFAA board events, it's always great to come home to this family that we have here.
I would say the same thing about all of my MASFAA colleagues, too. I had the fortune of my year of presidency being able to celebrate MASFAA’s 60th year and we're the oldest regional association — SASFAA follows right behind us. For me, it's all about the people — connections being made with like-minded individuals who just truly believe and have passion for the work that we do.
What's the best thing that has happened to you recently?
It's probably going to sound a little cheesy, but being asked to be one of the presenters for NASFAA’s emotional intelligence training that was just a few weeks ago was such a humbling and rewarding experience to be able to share virtually with my colleagues across the country on something that is so near and dear to my heart — professional development and growing great leaders. Obviously, we all have the work that we have to do — figuring out FAFSA simplification and verification, R2T4, and SAP — but being able to spend even just a little bit of time talking about developing ourselves as professionals was super rewarding and super fun.
Anything you've learned in the last year, or a new hobby you've picked up?
I love to cook and bake. I also love to try new foods and go to new restaurants. So I recently moved to the West Lafayette area and one of the things that I had been wanting to do for quite some time was to join a local farm share. I've always been trying to go to farmers markets and support local farmers. And I wanted to do that in a more substantial and sustainable way.
This winter, in the cold frozen north, there was a local farmer that I had gotten to know at the farmers market and I just loved his produce that I would buy every week. I decided to buy a share of his farm. And I can't wait for May to come when we start doing our weekly pickups, and experimenting with all the new fun fruits and vegetables that I'll get and be able to create some new recipes. I would love some day to have my own little garden. But right now, just not having a ton of time to maintain that, I decided to support somebody local and be a part of his farm share.
Publication Date: 4/24/2023