Monday, December 29, 2014

All About College Ratings

(by the Federal Issues Committee)

On December, 19th, U.S. Department of Education released its draft framework of the Obama Administration's College Ratings plan (see our blog post from that day, titled ED Releases Draft College Ratings Framework), otherwise known as the Postsecondary Institution Ratings System (PIRS). Today, we wanted to provide you with some additional background information:

The U.S. Department of Education has a webpage dedicated to this issue where you can read the release as well as find links to the following:

Comments on the framework are due by February 17, 2015 and can be submitted on the U.S. Department of Education website or by emailing

Several commentaries have been posted since the release and all seem to agree that the announcement by ED does not unveil a lot of new information. It more so tells us ED is being held accountable to do something soon, as the President wants implementation before the 2015-16 year. In light of next year's Republican majorities in Congress, where opposition to the proposals is already firm, it is hard to tell from the announcement how realistic implementation will be over the next year.
 "This so-called college ratings system is a fool’s errand and the secretary needs to stop it immediately.”
- House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN)
“Trying to create yet another complicated, federal system—this time for grading our country's 6,000 colleges and universities—is every bit as impossible and unnecessary as it sounds and is sure to fall flat on its face. Making sure students have access to the information they need to pick the right school is important and something we will discuss during the next reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, but I can’t support letting Washington bureaucrats use taxpayer dollars to fund a higher education popularity contest.”
- Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
 Here are some suggestions of what you can do:

  • Read our December 19th blog post, titled ED Releases Draft College Ratings Framework. This post has some great links to catch up on the news articles and commentary.
  • Bookmark ED's College Ratings webpage at to follow future updates, as well as have quick access to information.
  • Share the information and discuss with your colleagues and campus leaders. Have copies of the printable fact sheet available.
  • Send a short summary to key stakeholders at your institution soon to begin the conversation.
  • Finally, submit comments on the draft by February 17, 2015 and share those thoughts with your state association and MASFAA. MASFAA will be visiting Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. at the end of February and your views should be represented.

ILASFAA Reality Store

(by Janet Ingargiola, MASFAA Executive Council State Representative for Illinois) 

ILASFAA members banded together to participate in the Reality Store held in November at Kershaw Elementary in Chicago. 23 member institutions were represented, and over 40 volunteers helped make the day a great experience for the kids! Thanks to the members of the Diversity Issues Committee for planning and executing this annual event!

The Reality Store is a yearly project of our Diversity Issues Committee. This committee will solicit the participation of middle schools (the participants are in 8th grade) in high poverty areas to see if they would let us come and conduct a daylong event to help make their students aware of the benefits of completing high school and think about pursuing post-secondary education.

There are several stations that take the students through "life." Each student is provided a dossier with the biography of the person they are emulating: education, marital status, if they have children and how many, if their spouse works, annual income, if they have a student loan , etc. At each station the student makes choices, paying rent (or not), is their money for food or to pay utilities, can they buy a car, go on vacation, and various other events.

As the students move along, the ILASFAA volunteers at each station explain what they must address and the choices they have. It makes a clear picture of those without a high school diploma have more limited choices than those with a high school diploma and/or post-secondary education who have a wider range of choices.

The kids have a lot of fun even though it is a serious topic. The volunteers have a good time listening to the remarks, explaining their own experiences when they were pursuing an education and their career path. I volunteered  before and it was a very rewarding experience. The kids made me laugh when they would read their profile. For examples, one made a remark that, "no way am I having four kids and my wife not work." It also gave me a chance to explain what college is all about. One student read his profile and said  "I have a college degree!? Sweet! What's a bachelor's degree"? 

Many of the Illinois colleges donate items so that each student leaves with a bag of "goodies"such as t-shirts, pens, drinking bottles, calculators, and so on.

At our yearly conference we do a raffle and that money is given to the school for whatever immediate need they may have. One school restocked their library materials, another bought an appliance for their kitchen, and another stocked paper, pens, and other supplies for the students to use as needed.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

NASFAA Shares Seasons Greetings!

This week, the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) shared a holiday greeting to all the NASFAA members. Please share your own holiday messages with your MASFAA colleagues in the comments below!

Monday, December 22, 2014

‘Twas The Last MASFAA Monday Blog Post Before Christmas

(by Aaron Steffens, MASFAA President)

It was the Monday before Christmas and all through the Financial Aid Office…just thought I would try to get your attention!  It’s no secret that this time of the year is notoriously busy.  There are presents to wrap, events to attend, goodies to bake (and eat), academic terms coming to an end, SAP processing, and systems to update!  Let’s not forget that the FAFSA is only a few days from coming to life and the process shall begin again! NO!!! STOP!!

This is a special time of the year.  A time to stop, relax, and enjoy a little time off with family and friends.  A time to reflect on the year that is coming to a close.  How many students did you assist in 2014 so that they could accomplish their educational goals?  Where did you make a positive difference this year?  If you’re not sure, just open any college or university’s alumni magazine and take a look at all of the good things that graduates are doing to make this world a better place.  You ARE a part of that…maybe just a small part…but it takes every part to equal success.

What do you hope to accomplish in 2015?  How will you do that?  It all goes back to reflecting on 2014, asking yourself what you would change and then setting goals to move forward in the year ahead.  Sounds like New Year’s resolutions to me…or maybe even strategic long-range planning!  Before you know it, January 2, 2015 will be here and it will be time to start working towards those goals.  In the meantime, be calm and carry on.

On behalf of the entire 2014-15 MASFAA Executive Council, Happy Holidays and Best Wishes to all in the upcoming year!

Iowa Update

(by Julie Haack, MASFAA Executive Council State Representative for Iowa)

Fall is winding down here in Iowa and the weather is ramping up!  It’s feeling more like the holidays every day! 

We had a great fall conference this month here in my hometown of Davenport!  We welcomed 111 conference registrants to see What’s All the Buzz About? Fifteen of those 111 were newcomers to IASFAA!  Our Program committee did a great job of lining up interesting topics for our seasoned veterans and some 101 topics for our newcomers. 

We kicked off the conference with over 40 people attending NASFAA training on Needs Analysis, presented by Tim Kremer from University of Dubuque and Steve Loven from ICAN.  They provided a great history lesson for those who haven’t been around the block yet, and great guidance into the world of Needs Analysis!

We welcomed a few special guests as well.  We had Jesse O’Connell, a NASFAA Policy Analyst who provided us with the NASFAA update.  Byron Scott, former Training Officer for the Department of Education, provided his services on his last stop in his training role as he received a promotion in October.  We were very grateful that he was able to keep his commitment to us!  And our very own Aaron Steffens, current MASFAA President, provided us with the MASFAA update and along with his “Happy” crew, got people pumped up for MASFAA in Iowa in 2015! 

We gave out a number of awards for years of service and had 3 members who will be celebrating retirement this year.  Steve Loven from ICAN plans to retire in the spring, as well as Linda Schwinn from Capri College and Peg Julius from Kirkwood Community College.  We wish them much happiness and stress free living in their futures!

Our charity this year was the local non-profit group Quad City Scholars.  Quad City Scholars was created by local business leaders who recognized not all high school students with college potential were pursuing college degrees.  The group operates in area high schools and provides college and career exploration programs for 9th through 12th graders with the Iowa/Illinois Quad Cities.  They run on strictly donor dollars and use those funds to provide ACT prep, scholarship assistance, mentoring, and college visits.  To help raise funds we had a live auction and a silent auction and passed around donation jars.  We surpassed even our own expectations and raised over $1,600.00 for the organization.  We were then notified that a local trust had agreed to match all donations made in November so we really were able to provide an impact for this group!  We are so grateful for all the generosity in IASFAA!

We are already on track planning for our spring 2015 conference to be held in Johnston, Iowa in April.  Hard to believe my term as President is half over!  Stay warm and Happy Holidays from Iowa!

Barb Hoffman
20 Years of Service

Chris Ditter & Carolyn Schwendeman
25 Years of Service

Ean Freel & Pam Smith
10 Years of Service

IASFAA Fall 2014 Party Pic! 
IASFAA Fall 2014 Party Pic!

IASFAA Fall 2014 Party Pic!
Mary Jo Smith & Jen Sassman

Julie Dunn
35 Years of Service

Linda Schwinn
Retiree Recognition

Peg Julius
Retiree Recognition

Robin Jennings
5 Years of Service

Scavenger Hunt Party Pic!

Scavenger Hunt Party Pic!

Scavenger Hunt Party Pic!

Scavenger Hunt Party Pic!

Scavenger Hunt Party Pic!

Shannon Amundson, Gisella Baker, Carmen Nugent, & Chad Olson
15 Years of Service

Teresa Thiede
30 Years of Service

Friday, December 19, 2014

ED Releases Draft College Ratings Framework

(by Communications & Electronic Initiatives Committee)

Early this morning, at midnight (EST), the U.S. Department of Education (ED) released its draft framework (link via Inside HigherEd) of the Obama Administration's College Ratings plan, otherwise known as the Postsecondary Institution Ratings System (PIRS). Several articles and posts have already covered the move, including a blog post by Robert Kelchen, a higher education professor at Seton Hall University who reports and comments on some of the key pieces: Comments on Federal College Rating Metrics (via his blog, Kelchen on Education).

Other news articles covering the move include:

Monday, December 15, 2014

My First Federal Student Aid Training Conference

(by Melissa Haberman, University of Wisconsin-Madison)

As a first time attendee I was very excited to see an FSA Training Conference in person. I had previously watched the session recordings after the conference, but there is a lot to take advantage of by being there in person.

Federal Student Aid Training Conference Opening Session
The hardest part in getting ready for the conference was mapping out a schedule. The new staggered schedule doesn’t have a built in lunch break. With 58 sessions and 4 general sessions to choose from, prioritizing is a must.

My biggest tips for first time attendees:
  • Bring a water bottle and fill it up anytime you get a chance. (I was so thirsty!)
  • Wear comfortable shoes. I can’t say this enough. You will do a LOT of walking. (I should have brought a pedometer too!)
  • Bring some granola bars or snack food with you to the conference center each day. (So glad I did this!)
  •  Make a plan, but be flexible.

To make a plan, I narrowed down the list of sessions to a top 20. On the scheduled I greyed out the sessions not in my top 20 making it easier to determine a schedule. Make a plan A, a plan B and then be flexible. Sessions fill up and you may not be allowed to enter. You may decide that you just can’t wait another three hours to eat lunch and have to take a break. As I attended sessions I crossed them off of the schedule if they appeared multiple times making it easier to see what I still wanted to attend.

It is impossible to make it to everything you’d want to see. Fortunately, almost all of the presentations are available as session recordings after the conference.

Knowing that the recordings are available as a backup next time I would take more advantage of the FSATC Resource Centers. I did spend some time at the Ask-a-Fed table, but I would also want to visit a few others such as the COD, NSLDS, and Federal Loan Servicer centers. I recommend taking at least the month before you attend and writing down in detail any questions that come to your mind that you’d love to have more information about. It will help if you have detail and examples when you are at the resource center.

The FSA Conference back channel (Twitter conversation) really enhanced the experience for me. It was a great way for me to take quick notes and easily share them with people back in my office. Refer back to the MASFAA Blog Post on Making the Most of the FSA Conference, Even if You Can’t Attend for more info on the back channel.

One of the popular topics was the FSA ID which will begin replacing the Federal PIN number on April 25, 2014. Below is a small sampling of the tweets on that topic. I highly recommend taking a look at the Twitter search for #FSATC2014 to read more of the tweets from the conference.

One of the best parts of the conference was the chance to meet and get together with colleagues from all around the nation. I had a fantastic time meeting several #FAchat friends in person for the first time. I had a great dinner with @Susan_Johnson17 and @_lindanicholas. It was my first time at a hibachi restaurant and we had a ton of fun. We even ended up at a table with another financial aid administrator from California.

I was also fortunate to be able to meet many of the people who contributed to the back channel in person. We had a quick tweetup (an in person meeting of tweeters) and had fantastic turnout.

It was hard not to be overwhelmed with the shear amount of content at the FSA Conference, but making sure to connect with colleagues helped as we discussed what we were learning along the way.

State Update: Ohio Fall Conference

(by Amanda Reisinger, MASFAA Executive
Council State Representative for Ohio) 

Ohio completed their inaugural Fall Conference in November.  We had approximately 250 attendees for the three day conference.  We are now switching gears to prepare for our next conference in May, 2015 as well as visiting sites for our next Fall Conference in November, 2015.  The Ohio College Goal Sunday team is also hard at work preparing for Sunday, February 8, 2015 for our statewide event.  They are doing a fabulous job getting all of the sites ready to go!

NASFAA's Karen McCarthy at OASFAA

OASFAA's Tasha McDaniel and Angela Johnson

OASFAA's Faith Phillips and Kim Jeffers

OASFAA's Carrie Short

OASFAA's Scott Lehman

Institutional Performance in Perspective

(by Marcus Szymanoski, MASFAA Research Committee)

The following post originally appeared in NASFAA Today’s News on October 20, 2014 and is partially reposted with permission.

I doubt you would be impressed if I told you it takes me 25 minutes to run one mile. After all, most healthy adults can walk a mile in less time than that. If I told you this particular mile is the Manitou Incline, which ascends 2,000 feet up a Colorado Rocky mountain, you might be more impressed. The difference is context.  

Context is critically important in many aspects of life, and postsecondary education outcomes are certainly no exception. As policymakers increasingly look to measurements of institutional outcomes to allocate financial aid funds and influence behavior, many within the financial aid community have expressed valid concerns about the potential unintended consequences. A key U.S. Department of Education (ED) official acknowledged these concerns during a recent congressional briefing. To strike a balance between the goals of enabling access and improving higher education attainment, institutions should not be discouraged from serving the very students necessary to achieve these goals.


Marcus Szymanoski is the manager of training and communications for DeVry Education Group’s regulatory affairs division. Marcus has worked in postsecondary education for more than ten years, specializing in education policy and student financing. In addition to training, Marcus also performs legislative analysis and outreach and is an active volunteer for NASFAA, MASFAA, and ILASFAA.


Marcus has recently been appointed by MASFAA President Aaron Steffens as the new Research Committee Chair to replace Justin Chase Brown as he moves into the role of the new Communications and Electronic Initiatives Committee Chair position.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Missouri Update: #MASFAP Conference Charity

(by Angela Karlin, Executive Council Missouri Representative) 

MASFAP held its annual conference November 5-7, 2014 at the beautiful Lake of the Ozarks. Attendees were treated to a robust agenda and great opportunities for networking and community service.  The agenda included tracks for newcomers, business officers and advanced financial aid professionals.  While all of our conferences have great content and fun times, this conference stood out more than most because of our community service focus.

Janice Barnes, MASFAP president, wanted to have an activity that would impact the community at this conference.  Through a chance meeting by an associate member, Melissa Findley, MASFAP connected with the Lake of the Ozarks "Idiots Club."  This charity was formed to help youth that live at or below the poverty line.  Their needs could be a new pair of shoes, a uniform for a sports team or a set of tires for a student that needs to get back and forth to work and school. 

You are probably imagining a clothes drive or a silent auction to raise funds, right?  Not even close!  MASFAP in partnership with our associate members had a shopping spree and scavenger hunt at a local outlet mall to help 50 high school students.  The highly competitive folks of MASFAP were divided into teams, given a tax exempt letter and $100 per student and the student’s wish list. The wish lists were the basics…warm socks, sleep pants and even a space heater.  If $100 didn’t cover the bill, team members gave their own funds to cover the costs!  We had two hours to shop for five kids per team and fulfill the goals of the scavenger hunt (and also tweet photos as folks completed items on the scavenger hunt list!).  The hunt for bargains and the scavenger hunt turned into a night to remember for all of us.  There were laughs and tears as we worked to make wishes come true.

Being in financial aid is all about making a difference in the lives of our students.  Often this difference is not seen immediately, but on this night at the lake, we saw it happen instantly.  I have never been more proud to be a part of MASFAP than I was that night in November!

Iowa starts MASFAA 2015 Conference preparations with a big HAPPY bang!

(by Gisella Baker, MASFAA Local Arrangements Chair)

Financial Aid Administrators from the state of Iowa met in Davenport, IA last week for their annual conference, and had the honor of listening to MASFAA president, Aaron Steffens give a MASFAA Update.  During Aaron’s speech, he had the IASFAA Executive Council join a few of the 2015 MASFAA Local Arrangements committee members, to happily introduce to the state association the 2015 MASFAA Conference theme “Growing Connections For Success”.  As a couple of dozen individuals danced their way to the front stage singing how Iowa is so “Happy” to host next year’s MASFAA friends, the power point featuring Coralville, Iowa played through the projector.  It was announced the six working groups that have been identified as key components of this great task and their coordinators.  Many Iowans had already informally expressed their excitement and eagerness to start helping with the project, but more are needed and will be needed, especially from the local area, so this announcement was officially made.

The six working groups and corresponding volunteer coordinators are: Registration/Moderator Packets/Online Agenda (Renee Armentrout—Iowa Wesleyan); Audio/Video (Gary Adams—Iowa Student Loan); Guest Services (Cindy Seyfer—Univ. Of Iowa); Publicity/Communications (Erin Gjerde - Wells Fargo and Michelle Dunn—Grand View Univ.); Entertainment/Decorations/Charity (Shelly Brimeyer—Univ. Of Iowa) and Meals/Hotel Room/Vendor Relations (Sarah Harrington—Univ. of Iowa).

We were glad to see that quite a few people present had participated in the previous MASFAA Conference when Iowa was the host nine years ago, and got even better when most hands in the ballroom went up after being asked to do so if they were willing to help out.  We are definitely ready to showcase a great environment for the upcoming MASFAA conference, Growing Connections For Success, in Coralville-Iowa October 4-7, 2015!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Making the Most of the FSA Conference, Even if You Can’t Attend

(by the Communications and Electronic Initiatives Committee)

As most of you already know, the annual U.S. Department of Education Federal Student Aid (FSA) Conference is currently underway in Atlanta, Georgia! This conference is a valuable resource for financial aid administrators at all experience levels. There are many sessions (download an easily printable Word document of all sessions or the 2014 Agenda spreadsheet) covering a variety of training topics. In addition, attendees have the opportunity to visit the Resource Center for individual help with a variety of FSA products, including NSLDS, COD, E-App, and IFAP. There is also the opportunity to visit the Ask-a-Fed booth to get one-on-one guidance on those sticky financial aid issues.

But what happens if you weren't able to attend the conference? Whether the timing isn’t right or budget constraints have limited your ability to travel, not everyone can make it to Atlanta this year for the FSA Conference. You can follow the conference from afar through conference social media back channels.

Federal Student Aid as a Twitter account for the conference: @FSAconf. You don’t need a Twitter account to see their tweets. However, most of the updates you would find helpful would be other financial aid administrators tweeting from the conference. You can see this by searching the conference hashtag (#FSATC2014) on Twitter’s website or click here. This is a live updating feed of all of the tweets using that hashtag. Most people tweeting are in attendance at the conference. The embedded Twitter timeline below also shows the tweets as they’re being posted by Twitter users. You can come back to this blog post as often as you like and see the tweets as they're being posted! As you can see, you do not need a Twitter account to see this information.

Now you can read what people are saying about the conference. If you have a Twitter account, you can ask question about what they share or retweet their content. Most importantly, you can connect with other financial aid administrators. That connection lasts beyond the conference. The folks you meet on the back channel can become resources, colleagues, and friends.

You can also download FSA Conference presentations here as many are already posted.

This post was repurposed from the Wisconsin Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (WASFAA) blog at with permission, originally authored by Susan Johnson of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and Melissa Haberman, now at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Monday, December 1, 2014

MSFAA President-Elect's Michigan Update

(by Val Meyers, MSFAA President-Elect)

I am finding that the biggest challenge in preparing to become MSFAA president is the President’s Retreat.  It’s a full day to meet with the new board in preparation for our year of service to the Michigan Student Financial Aid Association, and it will be held in less than a month.  As the date looms, I am finding that the number of hours of comfortable sleep in my life declines.

MSFAA’s board year begins on the last day of the Winter Conference at the end of January, 2015, and ends at the end of the next Winter Conference in 2016.  Between those two mileposts, we’ll be hosting a Leadership initiative, a Support Staff Training, a new advisor Financial Aid 101 training series, a series of high school sessions from the Early Awareness/Multicultural Outreach Committee, and of course, a Summer Conference.  In support of that, we’ll need to have conference planning, training planning, outreach planning, budget planning – whew!

So my thoughts are rambling over the landscape of all of this, calculating what I would like to accomplish in one short year, and musing on what should be primary for us this year.  We do a lot of things, but is there one goal to accomplish in 2015?  That’s a question for MSFAA, for MASFAA, for the profession as a whole, so I know I am not alone in wondering.  But when I stand up in front of the executive board members for the first time, I think I should have some sense of an answer.

I want to be optimistic about what we can do to help students, but that’s hard when I see how the shape of student aid has changed in the nearly 30 years I have been in the profession.  There is a lot less gift aid from state and federal sources than I would like to see available for our students.  We don’t have the budgets for outreach and financial aid nights that we used to have – we don’t even have the same number of staff any longer.  So how do we frame what we can accomplish in a positive way, while being realistic about our limits as aid administrators?

The executive board consists of about 35 people.  I hope they are excited about the year ahead.  I will work with them to set achievable goals and figure out a way that we can reach those goals.  It will take some tact, some charm, some organization, and some imagination.

Since I am not even good at putting a dinner party together, this is going to be a real challenge.

Stay tuned….