Monday, February 29, 2016

Ready, Set, Bid!!! MSFAA’s Silent Auction

Submitted by Krissy Bhaumik, MSFAA President

MSFAA has a tradition at our winter conference.  Each year we hold a silent auction benefiting a charity in the state.  This year, the charity selected was Fostering Futures.  The Fostering Futures program is administered through the State of Michigan’s Student Scholarships and Grants office and provides scholarships to young adults who have experienced foster care, who enroll at Michigan degree granting colleges and universities and who meet academic and need-based criteria.
At any given time, it is estimated that Michigan has approximately 13,000 children in the foster care system.  The program reports: “A growing number of Michigan youth reach adult age while in foster care, and in addition to their lack of stable family structure and their impending housing needs, they have no financial resources available to attend college.”  Seventy percent of teens who emancipate from foster care report a desire to attend college, but fewer than ten percent of those graduating from high school actually enroll and less than one percent persists to graduation.

With the belief that heartstrings are connected to purse strings, MSFAA invited Robin Lott, Director of Michigan Education Trust, and Dr. Lisa Feinics, Life Skills Coach in the Mpowering My Success program at the University of Michigan - Flint to speak at the conference.  Director Lott provided an update of the scholarship program and efforts to raise money to assist our foster youth before Dr. Feinics shared her compelling story.  Dr. Feinics was placed in foster care at age 8 and had numerous placements over the next 8 years before she ran away to the streets.  But that was not where her story ended.  Despite the hardships and challenges that faced her, and maybe because of those experiences and for her daughter, Lisa changed her life's path and went on to earn a PhD in Neurobiology and Behavior from the University of Washington in Seattle.  Dr. Feinics worked as a scientist and an educator in the US and abroad before her passion brought her into her current position, where she supports current and former foster youth attending college. Her emotional and inspiring story had many of us in tears.  Her message: With help, our youth who have experienced foster care can do great things.  The Michigan aid community helped!

MSFAA members, schools, sectors and private businesses donated well over 100 items for the silent auction.  Items included tickets to a screening of Wheel of Fortune, an Amazon Fire tablet, a signed Jim Harbaugh University of Michigan Football, weekends away at hotels and resorts across the state and much, much more.  Even our evening entertainment, the Dueling Pianos musicians, donated their tips to the cause!  A special thanks needs to go to Kelly Schneider, MSFAA president elect, and her team for orchestrating the event.  When all of the donations were counted, MSFAA raised $6,323.87 for Fostering Futures!  This was the largest single charitable event and donation on record for our association!  We are happy that it is going to support an incredible scholarship for some exceptional youth.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Four Tips for an Effective Default Prevention RFP

Submitted by: Angela Henry, USA Funds Account Executive

Student loan default prevention experts recommend taking advantage of outside resources to assist in your efforts to keep students on track to successful repayment. If you’re planning to seek proposals from outside organizations for providing default prevention assistance, there are some best practices you’ll want to keep in mind as you develop your Request for Proposal:

1.    Clearly state your institution’s goals and objectives regarding your default management program needs and requirements.
Bidding vendors, RFP bid reviewers and decision-makers should have a clear understanding of your institution’s goals and objectives, outcomes you are seeking, and the proposed services that vendors offer. Is your goal to:

·         Reduce your cohort default rate to a specific target?
·         Generally reduce or maintain a current CDR?
·         Implement a wide-reaching default prevention service to assist your borrowers and improve future borrower repayment rates?

You might even consider cross-campus collaboration to help identify specific goals for your institution. When everyone understands the goal, it’s easier to assess which vendors actually satisfy your requirements.

2.    Build in plenty of specifics about the services you are requesting.
Default prevention vendors provide various types and levels of services. For instance, some focus on direct outreach to borrowers, and some look to borrowers to sign up for services (a self-service approach). Consider these questions:

·         Do you want vendors to focus on one specific cohort year or all three active cohorts?
·         Are you looking for a fully outsourced solution, or will your institution want to play a role in contacting borrowers as part of your default prevention efforts?
·         Will you require skip tracing?
·         Do you need online system access and reporting features?
·         Will you require dedicated technical support from your provider?
·         What technical support is required of you to implement the service?
·         Will you require periodic check-in meetings with your provider, and will you expect results reporting on a regular basis?
·         What metrics will you use to evaluate the provider’s performance?

If you plan to benchmark one provider’s performance against another, be sure you are comparing the same scope of data and results. If the vendor’s proposed services (and prices) match closely the requested services in your RFP, it is a good sign that the vendor has put some effort into really understanding your needs.

3.    Require standard pricing information from all bidding vendors.
Does your institution require an annual, all-inclusive price, or do you prefer to pick and choose from a menu of options? To be sure that the services included in that pricing meet all of your requirements, ask for specific descriptions of the work the vendors will perform — including the number of borrower accounts that will be included — and request an explanation of how costs are built into their models. Be sure vendors also explain clearly the costs associated with any additional services in their proposals. And to keep things clear, provide a pricing matrix for all vendors to complete, so that pricing bids are equal across the spectrum.

4.    Take time to analyze and understand your bids.
When it is time to review your vendor bids, calculate all scoring of proposed services and pricing, using the same criteria for all vendors. Different services offered by vendors could influence their effectiveness in reducing CDRs. Consider these important variables when making a final comparison:

·         The borrower population to be contacted.
·         The method of the contact.
·         The frequency of contact attempts.
·         The length of one-on-one time spent with your borrowers.

If you need assistance with default prevention planning, visit

Monday, February 15, 2016

Connection, Collaboration and Compliance... with a dash of Congressional Spice

Submitted by Krissy Bhaumik, MSFAA President

Michigan's winter conference was held in our state's capital, Lansing, January 31-February 3. MSFAA President Val Meyers called upon the Michigan aid community to come together at the conference and "Share Solutions to Keep Students First through Connections, Collaborations and Compliance." We had over 175 aid professionals and partners answer that call.

The program was packed with sessions that rang true to the theme. We were pleased to welcome Kevin Campbell, a Department of Education Training Officer out of their Dallas office. Kevin presented five sessions, including a Federal Update, a One-on-All with the Federal Trainer and the always popular Gainful Employment Requirements. We were inspired by Paul Artale, a compelling speaker who was born "limb different" but perservered to play Canadian college football and "Hit Hard!" to overcome adversity. Breakout sessions offered topics on professional health and personal wellness. NASFAA President Justin Draeger spoke about work-life balance and 2015 Michigan State Leadership Award recipient Jim Eddy spoke about wellness and simplification strategy within our overly complex lives. The program also included sessions on collaborating across campus to remove barriers for unaccompanied homeless youth and advocating LGBT Inclusion in Higher Education and much much more.

We were pleased to host Chris Ditter, the President Elect of IASFAA, at the conference as part of the MASFAA State President's Exchange Program. Chris may have had to miss the Iowa Caucuses to be with us, but we tried to keep it exciting that Monday with a surprise guest.

Also a great addition to the conference, but in no way an expected one, was the appearance of Michigan's senior US Senator, Debbie Stabenow. Senator Stabenow was spotted in the hotel restaurant having breakfast. She graciously agreed to stop into our general session to say hello to our membership. Half-way through his "Inside the Beltway" update, Justin Draeger stepped aside for Senator Stabenow. As it turns out, she was having coffee with leaders from Michigan's real estate community and they had been discussing the pressure student loan repayment was placing on potential young homebuyers! We were provided with a true insider's "Inside the Beltway" update before Senator Stabenow, much to the pleasrue of her aide, continued with her morning plans and Justin continued on with his updates. Many of us were left asking, "did that just happen?"

The conference ended as a great success. Participants made new connections within the MSFAA family, they found new ways to collaborate on their campuses and around the state and they learned more deeply the expectations and responsibilities placed on us by the Department of Education. As the gavel passed to me, I challenged the membership to think about their own stories and the paths that brought them to financial aid. I asked them to share those diverse stories over the next year. It is that diversity that builds a strong association and a stronger profession. In 2016, MSFAA will be celebrating our Unity in Diversity and all of the ways that enables us to better help students and families!

MSFAA's summer conference is scheduled for June 26-29 on beautiful Mackinaw Island. We would welcome you there!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Financial aid administrators have learned the cure to the limbic system

Submitted by: Mo Amos, ILASFAA President-Elect & member of the NASFAA PPY Task Force


What is the Limbic System?

Well some of us call it the ‘Chicken Little’ system, but the Limbic System is much more scientific than that.  The Limbic System is the complex system of nerves and networks in our brain that lives on the edge of the cortex that dictates our instincts and mood.  It controls our basic emotions (e.g. anxiety, fear) and it drives our reactions.  Financial Aid Administrators without even being aware in the midst of it all have assumed the role of the emotional intelligence necessary to avert over reacting to a workplace of constant change.  Whether that change is driven by regulations or by our institutions, we envision proactively with our teams, create appropriate goals and assess skill set necessary to move forward without impacting the students and families we serve.

What is in the current Radar of Change?  The Early FAFSA!

Well that is all ‘Prior-Prior’ year is – an early FAFSA.  All that is changing at the end of the day is what base year income is being used to complete the application.  How do we as a financial aid community reduce the level of anxiety around The Early FAFSA in our communication plan to senior level administration, admission offices and high school guidance counselors?  Part of the NASFAA PPY Task Force Communication Plan is to offer a toolkit to the financial aid community containing a table with dates and deadlines that institutions can place on their websites and/or distribute to target audiences (e.g. administration, high school guidance counselors).  The position of the National College Access Network or NCAN is that students and families use the additional time that The Early FAFSA provides to research college choice opportunities.  The May 1 decision day is not anticipated to change at this point.

So back to our question, how can we reduce the level of anxiety surrounding The Early FAFSA?  Again, we as a profession have the working of the neo-cortex – the rational brain – to lower this emotional center.  Some ideas include inviting someone from the NASFAA PPY Task Force to facilitate a listening session at regional or state conferences.  What is your State Association identifying as a best practice for implementing The Early FAFSA?  What is your institution doing?

Let’s talk! Share your thoughts in the comments below.


Monday, February 1, 2016

ILASFAA's Reality Store is a success!

Submitted by: Candace McNeal, ILASFAA Diversity Issues chair

Late last year, financial aid administrators throughout the state of Illinois gathered at Robert Fulton Elementary School on the Chicago's south side for our annual Reality Store. 110 students, grades 6-8, participated in the reality store; while it was a small group, it was indeed an energetic and remarkable group of students!

Volunteers settled into their stations and anxiously waited for the students to begin the Reality Store experience. The first group of students rushed in very excited to start their adventure, role-playing as a 28 year old adult with a randomly selected career (and accompanying salary), family size, and level of education completed

The children did a remarkable job maneuvering through the 18 stations—everything from paying their taxes and opening banking accounts to making choices about transportation, housing, and making student loan payments. Life threw a curveball when students stopped at the Wheel of Fortune; one might get a windfall from unexpected dividends, or find that they had a minor car accident that required repair. Several volunteers mentioned that they noticed students actually making good decisions and budgeting wisely. The entire experience was very rewarding for both the students and volunteers.

This year we had representatives from 15 different colleges & universities;  3 lenders; and 1 loan servicer. All sectors were represented, and members from the Illinois Student Assistance Commission participated as well. We also had over 10 new Reality Store volunteers this year!

As the Diversity Issues committee chair, I would like to thank everyone who volunteered, contributed swag or even sent staff from the office to help out with the Reality Store at Robert Fulton Elementary School. I would like to send a special thank you to Marchello and Aesha for all their assistance with planning and recruiting for volunteers for the Reality Store. Finally, I would like to thank all the diversity members for their dedication and hard work to make this event successful.