NASFAA’s 2024 Leadership & Legislative Conference & Expo Kicks Off

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Senior Staff Reporter

Over 450 financial aid professionals 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.

This year’s conference eclipsed 2023’s record-breaking attendance numbers, making 2024 the largest in conference history with roughly 47% of attendees being first timers. And for the first time in over 20 years, there are also international attendees attending the conference.

At Monday’s opening session, NASFAA President and CEO Justin Draeger focused his remarks on the importance of this annual conference, and how the gathering helps financial aid professionals connect with the community.

“It's a big conference, but not so big that we can still share some real details about what is going on inside Washington D.C.," Justin said. “We can make real contacts and network.”

Helen Faith, FAAC®, NASFAA's 2023-24 National Chair, recounted the impact and experience of the last reauthorization of the Higher Education Act in 2008, comparing that time to the frenzied nature of today’s environment in financial aid. She encouraged all those in the profession to breathe.

“I often say that transitions are the hardest part of life but that they are unavoidable,” Faith said. “FAFSA simplification isn’t actually childbirth but it does represent a massive transition. It’s the hardest experience many of us have known in our profession.”

Faith told members to take advantage of the knowledge and resources available at the conference and encouraged attendees that their advocacy and expertise will help students meet their full potential.

“We spent months and years trying to plan for something we know will be positive in the end, but the process for getting there has been unpredictable,” Faith said.

Participants were then treated to a video message from Sen Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who has been heavily involved in legislation concerning student aid policy.

“For many years, millions of federal student financial aid dollars went unused because the FAFSA process was too overwhelming and too hard to understand for students and families,” Kaine said. “Thanks to your advocacy, we passed legislation in Congress streamlining the complex and burdensome FAFSA process through the passage of the FUTURE Act and the FAFSA Simplification Act.”

Kaine also noted the complications with the 2024-25 FAFSA rollout.

“Despite this big accomplishment, the rollout process has been less than smooth,” Kaine said. He also pointed to a recent letter he sent to the Department of Education (ED) looking to get clearer guidance on the rollout.

“I look forward to continuing to work with you and the department to make this process better,” Kaine said.

The multi-day conference separates attendees into four 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 and network, and explore important issues facing the financial aid community. 

Bob Fultz from the University of Kentucky, for example, has taken on a new role as associate director of compliance assessment and training.

“This is the perfect conference for me in my new role,” he said. “I'm looking forward to networking for the compliance track and enjoying the camaraderie and all the federal updates that we'll be receiving from this conference.”

Celena Tulloss, FAAC®, director of scholarship integration and operations at the University of Utah, said that this is one of her favorite conferences. 

“Not only is the networking always amazing, but you get to hear directly from the Department of Education,” Celena said. “They come to us, share freely, and so this has always been one of my favorite conferences and I’m glad to be here again this year.”

Edgar Martinez, associate director of financial aid and scholarships at California State University Channel Islands, is a part of the strategic enrollment management pathway.

“I'm looking forward to seeing how we can increase our enrollment and making sure that we are doing great for our retention specifically in these kinds of changes,” Martinez said.

During the conference’s opening session, Draeger then looked to underscore the complicated landscape that aid administrators find themselves in with the 2024-25 FAFSA rollout still delayed.

“This is no small predicament and we are being called on to figure it out as we always do,” Draeger said.

To bring this process home, Justin then walked through a student’s experience with the FAFSA process, and how they were easily able to complete the form. However, this student — referred to as Ethan in order to preserve their identity — needs to know their financial award letter in order to determine which schools are realistic for them to attend.

“These delays have real consequences for kids like Ethan … and millions of people who depend on this aid,” Draeger said. “I do wonder if Ethan will hang in there for several more months as he tries to think about where he is going.”

Draeger reminded aid administrators that they are well-prepared and capable of handling unprecedented times, particularly with how they navigated the tumult of the pandemic.

“It is 2020 all over again. You wrote the playbooks as we went — here we go again,” Draeger said. “We do the hard things and we do them for our students. We will be adaptable and flexible.”

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 #NASFAALeads24 to keep up with what members are talking about.


Publication Date: 2/6/2024

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