KASFAA Spring conference new comer meet and greet on April 17, 2013 in Topeka, Kansas.
By Elaine Henrie, Emporia State University
Much is said about one-stop shops, cross-training, and multi-functioning offices in higher education. Some of this is for efficiency with an eye toward helping students and some if it is really about ways to reduce costs. An argument can be effectively made either way and that is for another day. In the end, whatever your opinion, the movement for combining services is here for now and we need to learn how best to thrive in our new environment.
So let’s take a look at decisions you might make in your own office that push this concept a bit further. Beyond making your next hire a financial aid professional who happens to be adept at both communication and IT skills (which is a must, by the way), it will serve you well to pursue a partnership with your IT department to also job-share a staff member (not the traditional two people splitting one position, but one person with two distinct sets of responsibilities).
Prior to the implementation of our current integrated student information system (SIS), we worked with Sherry from our IT department on the implementation of a stand-alone financial aid software product. She was our “go-to” person for the legacy system so she was a natural fit for assistance with our first venture into purchased financial aid processing software. Prior to that, we didn’t expect her to know anything about financial aid and its myriad of regulations. Truth be told, we would not have been very good at explaining it. We just knew what we wanted in the end and called her and said “we need a report that does this or that.” We got the report and each of us returned to our respective job assignments. The connection between us was over until the next time we needed a report.
When we entered the software world, we kept hearing – just trust us and set it up this way and it will work. We are financial aid folks, for heaven sake, and you want us just to trust you! That mantra was repeated enough times that we complied but we remained truly clueless about articulating our needs in computer language. Sherry, however, was there for the entire adventure and we felt that we could at least trust her – we knew her after all.
Fast forward four years. We were not more than two days into our training for our integrated SIS when it became apparent that we had better start two-way, full disclosure conversations with Sherry. We needed to learn to talk in language that made sense to someone entrenched in computer language and we certainly needed to make sure she became fluent in financial aid speak. Any other approach would have left us with a so-so outcome at the end of implementation. Fortune was our good friend. Not only had we been able to hire a former financial aid work-study student, Thad, who had gone on to earn a Computer Science degree, we had Sherry. We now had staff who spoke financial aid, an interpreter, Thad who spoke both languages’ and a valued partner, Sherry, who spoke computer. The implementation was a success because our financial aid staff could now dialogue about financial aid system needs in computer terms and our computer center comrade understood federal financial aid regulation.
Through some negotiating with our IT department we were able to demonstrate how important it was for us to retain Sherry in our office two days a week so that skills on both sides continued to improve. To make our case, we assessed efficiencies that occurred through this collaboration. Three important areas included in our assessment were verification of FAFSA results, satisfactory academic progress reviews, and communications with our students. We found we could stay current on verification, complete satisfactory academic progress reviews in one day, and have a 24-hour turn around on returning phone calls and answering email. In addition we gained the ability to pull data at a moment’s notice and to update the processing software to t meet our needs. Prior to this partnership, it took an inordinate amount of time to get the programming tweaked to actually help us be less manual.
Our continued successful collaboration (seven years to date) dictates that we have a responsibility to keep Sherry engaged. She cannot return to being the “go-to” person who has no stake beyond writing a report for us. For us this means:
- We are inclusive. Sherry is part of all our team and all our communications.
- We are respectful. We try hard not to infringe on her time when she is performing her other work with the IT department.
- We are flexible. Upon occasion, she is pulled to another project and we must appreciate that.
- We are ever-changing. It is imperative that we continue to provide financial aid training opportunities, including sending Sherry to our regional summer institute and the Federal Student Aid conference.
So, when you are part of the discussion about efficiencies and cross-training and multi-functional offices, remember to look beyond the usual players – Admissions, Registration, and the Business Office – and consider making your case for job-share with your IT department.
I love the excitement surrounding sending award notifications for the upcoming year. That usually means warm weather is on its way, but not so much this year. A friend of mine recently indicated he was going to petition the Johnson County DA to issue an arrest warrant for Punxsutawney Phil for misrepresentation of the coming of spring…I may jump on that band wagon!
Bad weather didn’t stop many of our KASFAA colleagues from shining during the last couple of months though. A few highlights include:
- The KASFAA Government Relations Committee and Publicity & Awareness Committee teamed up to promote Financial Aid Awareness Month by visiting the state capital on January 25. The Governor signed a proclamation declaring February Financial Aid Awareness Month in Kansas.
- After the proclamation was signed, members visited the offices of legislators to inform them of the proclamation, introduce themselves, and drop off a flyer of quick facts about financial aid in our state. See http://kasfaa.org/docs/news/FinAidKASFAA_GRCFlier.pdf.
- Kudos to all the KASFAA members who made College Goal Sunday a success at 22 locations throughout Kansas on Sunday, February 24. A total of 246 people volunteered! How awesome is that?
- The Publicity and Awareness committee wrote articles this year and sent them to sister organizations. The Great Plains Association for College Admission Counseling (GPACAC), Mid-America Association of Educational Opportunity Program Personnel (MAEOPP), and the Kansas Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (KACRAO) published the information in their newsletters. This committee is making us all proud with their outreach efforts and growing relationships with like-minded organizations.
I hope the sun is shining bright when we get together in April. I know how talented you all are, but I’m looking forward to seeing your hidden talents during the upcoming production of KASFAA’s Got Talent! Is anyone planning to do their own version of the Harlem Shuffle? I’m sitting here laughing just thinking about the possibilities! Though we have a lot of fun in our organization, we also provide great training. Haven’t convinced your boss to let you go yet? NASFAA recently posted some materials that could be utilized to justify your attendance at the NASFAA Conference. The documents can easily be modified to justify your attendance at the KASFAA Conference. Be sure to include that Megan McClean, Director of Policy Regulatory Issues at NASFAA, will be providing the federal update. See http://www.nasfaa.org/conference/register/convince-your-manager/.
Hope to see you soon!
Stephanie Covington, KASFAA President
Kent Garrett, 2012-2013 College Goal Sunday Committee Chair
That’s right, the Blizzard of Oz. And I’m not referring to the Ozzy Ozborne album, but rather the weather that February brought us over the weekend of College Goal Sunday. First came the snow, then the came school closings. Next came shoveling, more snow, and more shoveling. In the middle of it all was February 24, the day of College Goal Sunday. But did our fine state let a little snow stand in the way of some sweet FAFSA-filing? No! Our great volunteers battled the weather and all of our 22 sites opened their doors. When all was said and done, 608 students and 1,294 attendees were greeted with a smile by one of 246 volunteers across the great plains of Kansas. A huge thank you is in order for everyone who helped this year. Your commitment is quite evident. You all did a wonderful job, and I’m sure that the students and families that attended are grateful for the assistance they received. The success of College Goal Sunday depends on dedicated volunteers like you, and once again you came through. It has truly been a pleasure to serve as the College Goal Sunday Chair this past year. Thank you for the opportunity.
Meet Megan Olsen, Financial Aid Counselor/VA Certifying Official for the Office of Financial Aid at Wichita State University.
Megan’s financial aid background began in June 2011 as a Financial Aid Customer Service Representative. In December 2012, she accepted a new role within the college and transitioned to a Financial Aid Counselor/VA Certifying Official.
As a new member to financial aid and KASFAA, Megan is excited to become part of the financial aid community. Leaving her hometown of Wichita, KS, Megan studied at St. Olaf College in Northfield, MN. However, there’s truly no place like home. She returned to Wichita in 2010 and began working at WSU the following year.
Traveling is something Megan would like to do, but between her 2 ½ year-old son, Nate, and an energetic golden retriever, finding time to travel is not at the top of the list.
In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with family and friends, reading, singing, spending time outside, and – of course – reading the KASFAA blog!
Be sure to send a “Welcome!” to Megan at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Wichita Area Technical College (WATC) welcomed Sara Roland on October 16th as their new Assistant Diretor. She came to WATC from the financial aid office at Newman University where she worked as a Financial Aid Counselor. Sara graduated from Kansas State University in May 2005.
WATC also welcomes back Schavonne Wilson, Financial Aid/Veteran Services Specialist, who was on military leave during the Summer and Fall 2012 semesters.