Monday, June 29, 2015

College Ratings Plan? What College Ratings Plan!?

(by Gena Boling, member of Federal Issues Committee)

via Huffington Post (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
If you’re anything like me, for nearly two years, you have been sitting on the edge of your seat, waiting for the College Ratings Plan shoe to drop. Announced by President Obama in August 2013, the College Ratings Plan was designed to rate colleges on value in an effort to provide students and families information on selecting a “best value” institution. Sounds great, right?

According to many financial aid administrators, higher education administrators, and the general public, the ratings system came with many flaws. Reliable data, defining “best value,” determining comparable institutions – many of the factors playing a role in the outcome of a college ratings plan are complex and problematic when drawing comparisons between institutions. Many Congressional leaders have voiced concerns the college ratings system would result in costly measures to create and maintain.

This week, Deputy Under Secretary of Education, Jamienne Studley posted a blog updating the progress of the Department of Education’s efforts to implement the Obama Administration’s proposed college ratings system, indicating a near-abandon of the previously proposed college ratings plan. In her blog post, Studley suggests ED will release new consumer tools in late summer, which will provide information to families and students as well as to institutions for use in bench-marking institutional performance.

This sounds a bit different from a college ratings plan which would essentially compare postsecondary institutions in terms of which institutions offer a best value for their education, grouping schools into three categories of value from best to least desirable, based on what many argued were arbitrary factors.

Instead, the Department of Education will seek to provide what undersecretary Ted Mitchell describes as “revolutionary” information to students and families who want to make customizable comparisons on their own. Why not just use existing consumer products such as a school’s Net Price Calculator, the College Scorecard, or College Navigator? Good question. Many tools already exist which offer students and families the ability to research a number of institutions in order to review financial factors. These, when used in combination with an understanding of educational programs, on-campus experiences, and any other factor the student finds important to them, can lead to a sound college choice. However, ED is still discussing which data to include in the new tool and is considering including graduate earnings and loan repayment rates, which would expand on data found in the College Scorecard or Navigator.

As a MASFAA member from Missouri, I can tell you we have been very interested in this topic and have taken a proactive approach to addressing college ratings on behalf of our state association members to Congressional leaders. In January 2015, shortly after the draft framework for the system was announced, Missouri members completed a detailed survey on the topic. The results of this survey helped shape multiple conversations with legislators during visits to DC and subsequent emails to legislative staff. Survey results demonstrated than an overwhelming majority of members disagreed with the proposed rating systems and feared the College Ratings Plan would fail at achieving its published goals.

We’ll continue to follow the progress of this new, “revolutionary” tool and will provide updates as we can. If you’d like more information on these developments, I encourage you to check out the following resources:

Monday, June 22, 2015

MASFAA President: Thanks SI & Leadership Staff

(by Aaron Steffens, MASFAA President)

Earlier this month, MASFAA hosted its annual Summer Institute and Leadership Symposium on the IUPUI Indianapolis campus.  More than ninety attendees between the two groups converged to grow connections for success through various learning and networking opportunities throughout the week.

On behalf of the entire MASFAA board, I would like to thank the following individuals for their outstanding efforts in offering a successful program.  The Leadership Symposium was led by Heidi Carl and instructors Keyimani Alford, Triena Bodart, and Pam Fowler.  Summer Institute was co-chaired by Marvin Smith and Karla Weber and the faculty included Ryan Gebler, Brandon Huiner, Emily Janero, Chad Olson and Christine Passer.  Delegate-At-Large Nick Prewett coordinated evening activities and provided support to both groups, while Lisa Chambers, Megan Johnson and Ginny Washington assisted with local logistics.  It truly takes teamwork to make a great program!

Thanks to each of you for your contributions!

I would also like to express gratitude to each of the attendees and their institutions for participating in these programs.  It is our hope that the knowledge gained through these programs will enhance the financial aid experiences of not only the attendees, but the students they serve.

MASFAA Summer Institute Faculty Experience

This post was originally published on the Wisconsin Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators blog, submitted by Ryan Gebler at Lawrence University.

The first week of June I had the pleasure of attending the MASFAA Summer Institute in Indianapolis. Although this was my first Summer Institute (SI), I was there as a faculty member. SI was hosted by Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, which is a short walk or drive northwest of downtown Indianapolis. (From what I gathered, people associated with IUPUI don’t like it when you refer to their school as “ou-ee poo-ee.”)

My journey to Indianapolis began in November 2014… at lunch… at the Fall WASFAA Conference in Appleton. I sat next to Karla Weber from UW-Madison, who happened to be a chair for SI. She asked me if I was interested in teaching at SI and—without much hesitation—I said, “sure!” First lesson learned: be careful who you sit next to at lunch during a conference. Or, better yet, be intentional with who you sit next to. Conferences are a great opportunity to network and make connections, which will lead to new opportunities. I’m grateful that Karla asked me about SI and that I said yes.

There were some great benefits to being a SI faculty member. First, as a college administrator, I thought it was pretty cool to be a “faculty” member. Second, in preparation for SI, I was given access to NASFAA’s CORE materials—helpful references and guides to understanding financial aid fundamentals. Over the winter and spring months, I studied NASFAA’s CORE materials and, as a requirement to teach at SI, passed 4 NASFAA credentialed exams. Not only do I have handy materials to help me with my job (which I’ve already used), I also now have some NASFAA credentials. Another benefit was meeting and getting to know the other faculty, who are experienced professionals and leaders among MASFAA. I felt very fortunate to make these connections. Also, getting to know people at schools outside of Wisconsin was rewarding and fun. As someone at a Banner school, I was thrilled to see about half of those in my classroom were at Banner schools.

Fun and learning at MASFAA SIMASFAA SI was a new professional development experience for me. I haven’t presented at a conference before, so being in front of the audience for 4 days changed my focus and approach to the week. I still had a ton of fun at SI with all the games and activities planned for us; however, I retired early to my room each night so I could go over PowerPoint slides and prepare for the next day’s sessions.

Financial aid is an amazingly diverse and rewarding profession. I feel fortunate that MASFAA SI provided me with an opportunity to get in front of a classroom and teach (I missed my calling as a math teacher). SI gave me a reason to step back, retrain, retool, network, and do something completely different than my normal routine by teaching in a classroom.

Monday, June 15, 2015

MASFAA Leader Spotlight: Susan Swisher

Welcome to another one of our MASFAA Leader Spotlight posts. Throughout the year, we'll try to interview some of the leaders on the MASFAA Executive Council. Next up is MASFAA President-Elect, Susan Swisher, Executive Director of Financial Aid at Saint Xavier University.

As MASFAA President Elect, I serve a one year term commencing at the adjournment of the Annual Meeting and begin the term of President in the following year.  I participate and vote at Executive Council Meetings, contribute to the formulation of Association policies and procedures, assist with other Association activities as needed.  I also serve on the Finance Committee, Nominations and Elections Committee and Association and Governance and Planning Committee.  

How did you get started in Financial Aid?

I was in my final semester at University of Iowa taking one class and realized I needed to get a job. As it turned out ACT was in need temporary help and I was hired.  At the time ACT had the contract for federal processing very similar to what we know today as the CPS.  This temporary job lead to a permanent job and I was there until the contract ran out.  Not knowing what to do next, I ended up back in Chicago and was hired as a Financial Aid Advisor at DeVry.

How did you first become involved in your state and regional associations?

I got involved at the state level by volunteering to serve on the Training and Professional Development Committee with ILASFAA.  This led to eventually chairing several committees within the association, then serving on the Executive Board as Chicago Regional Coordinator, Treasurer (twice) and President.  It was when I was President that I became involved in MASFAA and served on Executive Council as the Illinois representative.

Why were you interested in a MASFAA Leadership Role?

I became interested in serving MASFAA in a leadership role after my experience as the Illinois Representative.  This led to me serving as MASFAA Treasurer Elect and Treasurer.  During that time I learned more about the association’s goals and objectives and the value of networking with colleagues in the region.   This experience led me to realize that I wanted the opportunity to give back to our profession.

What advice do you have for someone interested in becoming more involved in MASFAA?

First, I encourage you to learn everything you can about the association.  You can start volunteering on a committee or considering becoming a moderator for conference session.  Be sure to take the opportunity to network with your colleagues as I have found that networking was key to my development.  Finally, let it be known that you are interested in becoming more involved.  

What have you learned through your state or regional association that you were not expecting?

I think the main thing that I was not expecting is the friendships that were formed with my colleagues I worked with at both the regional and state level.  Prior to my involvement, I always had this picture that those involved were a part of a clique that was hard to become a part of.  Once involved, I learned that was not the case and I have developed many close relationships with others that I call for advice and/or a good laugh.

Any final thoughts? 

For those that are not actively involved in MASFAA, please consider getting involved.  You will find it a worthwhile investment of your time and professional growth.  It is exciting to be a part of the development of the association’s long term strategic plan as we promote training, professional development and advocate to support financial aid programs for the students we serve.

Awards Committee Seeking Nominations

Recognize any of these past superstars? MASFAA Awards Committee is seeking nominations for the 2014-2015 Awards.  Go to the MASFAA Web Site and check out the award descriptions.  You know someone who deserves to be recognized….take the first step!  Submit nominations to by July 13, 2015.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Summer Institute & Leadership Symposium

The MASFAA Summer Institute & Leadership symposium was held June 1-5 on the campus of Indianapolis University Purdue University Indianapolis.  MASFAA President Aaron Steffens opened the conference by welcoming attendees and stressing the goals and values of MASFAA.  As part of a cost cutting and networking opportunity, MASFAA held the spring board meeting in conjunction with the institute.  Board members were able to share their experience and knowledge with attendees.
Seventy-two financial aid professionals attended SI and were divided into two educational tracks focusing on the 11 training areas of the NASFAA CORE module.  Each course was taught by a NASFAA certified instructor, allowing all attendees to sit for the NASFAA credentialing exams.

Twenty emerging MASFAA leaders attended the leadership symposium.  Faculty for the symposium were an all-star cast of leaders throughout the region and the topics covered gave insight into what it takes to be a leader not only in the office, but also within professional organizations.  Participants began their journey looking back on work and life events which led to their current roles.  They were then led through a series of sessions touching on leadership theories and best practices.  The final session of the symposium was an opportunity to reflect on where they are going with their own leadership voyage and chart out a course.  Students were able to learn not only from the faculty, but also other students who provided tips and tricks they use to be an effective leader.

As with any MASFAA event, it wasn’t all work and no play.  Monday night participants competed in a game of Minute to Win It, which was won by the MASFAA all-star team.  Tuesday night the groups went to an Indianapolis Indians baseball game.  Wednesday night, people divided into groups and spread out over Indianapolis for dinner, with about half of the folks later meeting up for some duckpin bowling.  Thursday night was Trivia night.  If you have ever seen financial aid administrators challenge the federal regulations, then you should have seen them in all their fury in the trivia challenge!

The Summer Institute and Leadership committees would like to congratulate all of the attendees on their completion of the program.  We are also excited to follow participants as they sit for their NASFAA credentials.  Information about next year’s Summer Institute will be available early in the fall.

Monday, June 1, 2015

MASFAA Leader Spotlight: Val Meyers

Welcome to the continuance in a series of MASFAA Leader Spotlight posts. Throughout the year, we'll try to interview some of the leaders on the MASFAA Executive Council. Next up is Val Meyers.Val Meyers is Associate Director at Michigan State University and the 2014-2015 MASFAA Treasurer and Michigan representative.

How did you get started in financial aid?
I always get a laugh when I introduce myself at a conference or presentation by telling people that I spent about 10 years in retail before I came to MSU to do financial aid. I explain that in retail, even though I was a manager, I was paid too little for the responsibilities that I had, and I didn’t like disgruntled customers yelling at me. So that is why I came to financial aid! Most people appreciate the irony.

But in truth, it was meant to be. I am one of seven kids in my family, and was not only first generation, but the only one to finish an undergraduate degree, let alone a graduate degree. For me, financial aid was crucial to a life change that none of the rest of my siblings have experienced.

How did you first become involved in your state and regional associations?
I work with Rick Shipman who hired me into the financial aid office at Michigan State and has been a leader and mentor for me for my entire career. He has not only been supportive, but really sets an expectation that the senior management need to give back to the profession in some way. He also served in both MSFAA (Michigan) as well as MASFAA and was very supportive of my interest in doing the same.

I am also fortunate in that I have been able to be a part of the Big Ten Associate Directors group, and knowing that some of the same folks were active in MASFAA gave me a further incentive to volunteer. They are great people to work with and I knew I would enjoy seeing them more often, so that was a bonus.

What advice do you have for someone new to financial aid?
There is a role for you no matter your skillset. One of the joys of this profession is that there is a need for the public speaker, the detail-oriented processor, the political scientist compliance officer, and the supportive and nurturing counselor. I have been fortunate to find so many ways to help students and parents, and still stretch myself to learn new things and to grow.

What advice do you have for someone interested in becoming more involved in MASFAA?
Don’t start by running for office. Begin by volunteering for a committee. I started with MASFAA by running for secretary and then getting asked to begin immediately due to the current secretary leaving financial aid. It was very disorienting to be thrown into the mix, not knowing more than a couple of people on the board or the job that I was supposed to be doing. I imagine that beginning by working on a committee would be a much easier transition into then running for office.

I also think that beginning as a Delegate-at-Large is a good first step once you begin to run for elected office. It plugs you into several committees at the outset, which allows you to get to know the structure of the board and the committees.

What did you learn during your leadership term?
I tried to do too much. I was already Treasurer-Elect when I accepted the nomination to be president of my state association. I didn’t realize how much each position would demand from me. If I had it to do over again, I would only do one thing at a time.

What do you enjoy doing when you are outside the aid office?
Reading, writing novels, and indulging the whims of my three cats.

Any final thoughts?
Financial aid can be a job, a career, or a calling. Regardless of the reason you choose it, keep in mind that you are doing good work. We support students and families to reach for futures that they would not have without our help. When I have a challenging day, it helps me to remember that.

529 Day College Savings Celebration

The 29th of May has become a day of celebration across the country for college savings. The holiday of sorts celebrates the many state-sponsored 529 plans across the country by offering special deals on opening or contributing to a 529 plan. A 529 plan is a type of investment account you can use for higher education, named after Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code, which outlines its tax advantages. Earnings on 529 plans grow federally tax-deferred and qualified withdrawals are tax free.

See some of the 529-day tweets below from late last week and check out this map by the College Savings Plans Network to see how the day was celebrated in your state.