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Welcome to “The Buzz.” If this is your first visit, please take a moment to read “About the Blog.” If you would like to participate by commenting on the postings, please take a moment to “Register.” You may also “Subscribe” to simply receive an email when a new post is submitted. If you are a registered user, be sure to participate in our latest poll at the bottom of this page. As always, if you need assistance, please contact support@cccsfaaa.org or gryan@fullcoll.edu.

Have an article to submit? Please contact Greg Ryan at gryan@fullcoll.edu.

Community College Perceptions: Behind the Statistics (Amy Glynn/Campuslogic)

April is National Community College Awareness Month—a time set aside to showcase contributions that the nation’s community, technical, and public and private junior colleges make in furthering access to higher education. More than 1,100 community colleges serve in excess of 12 million students—and they’re facing change at unprecedented levels.

Driving the ABCs of student finance—improving accessibility, reducing student borrowing, and driving completion—at a community college requires innovation, challenging the status quo, and keeping the ever-changing needs of students front-and-center. In this series, I’m thrilled to welcome thought leaders from City College of San Francisco and Houston Community College to the #IMakeFinAidAwesome blog. They’re sharing their unique insights on everything from the shifting demographics of community college students—and how to meet their expectations—to how to communicate effectively with them.

Community Colleges: The Statistics Behind Today’s Reality

Community colleges are often in the news, seen as everything from, “a partial solution to the student debt crisis,” to problematic in terms of low degree completion rates. To understand the reality behind the problems, consider the world in which these students live:

  • 88% of community college students are non-traditional
  • 36% are first-generation college students
  • 62% attend part time
  • 41% of part-time students work full time, 32% work part time
  • 30% have children; 53% of all student-parents leave school with no degree
  • 58% receive financial aid; 38% receive federal grants, 19% receive federal loans
  • $4,700: The average amount of financial aid received by community college students
  • The average community college student is 28 years old and female—but getting younger

Community College Students and Financial Aid

Community college students are less likely to borrow—and they borrow less, on average. But they’re more likely to default on federal loans than students at other institutions. For those who persist, nearly one-in-five community college students are “so worried about finances that they’ve considered dropping out.” And it’s no wonder: Think about the fact that the cost of a textbook has increased more than 70% since 2006—more than four times the rate of inflation. One-in-three community college students have a family income lower than $20,000—and one-fifth say they wouldn’t be able to financially deal with an emergency. Thirty percent of community college students are food insecure, too. Meanwhile, the cost of community college has doubled since 1980.

How Your Peers Are Managing the Shift

When you look at all of these statistics, the idea of managing to all of these variables—and to the changing environment—can feel overwhelming. The demands that are being placed on our open-access colleges, and how these institutions respond, can make or break them within their communities. That’s why we reached out to some of the true innovators in student financial services to see how they are addressing the shifting needs of their students.

In our next installment, Elizabeth Coria, Dean of Financial Aid and Student Success Programs at City College of San Francisco, talks about diversity, accessibility, and their Path to 32,000.

Mrs. Glynn Goes to Washington—How to Advocate for the HEA (Amy Glynn/Campuslogic)

Tensions in higher education are running high. For the first time ever, society is beginning to question its value. College enrollment is down. And, with the anticipated reduction in high school graduates, schools will continue to have to fight harder for each new student. Disruption of the education and funding models is no longer a question of if, but instead when, it will occur. With the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA) on the table, now is an ideal time to make sure your voice is being heard.

A Topic Too Important for Our Insecurities

Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to go to Washington, D.C., and speak with staff members on Capitol Hill about the future of financial aid. This was a completely new experience for me—and one that I never thought I would take part in. You can ask my husband: Politics and the legislative process have always been his thing; not mine. If you are more like me, the idea of advocating in Washington may be overwhelming, nerve-racking, and even cause you to have self-doubt. A bit of a perfectionist—as I think most financial aid professionals are—it’s hard to go into new situations where there are so many unknowns.

However, it is my hope that you will overcome those feelings—as I did—to help advocate for students and to continue to shape the future. Here are five things I learned during my visit that I think (hope) will help you find the courage to speak up in D.C.

  1. This Is Just the First Step in Building a Relationship  

No relationship of value has only one interaction. This was probably the single-best piece of advice I received (Thank you, NASFAA President, Justin Draeger!). You are not looking to sway opinion in a single meeting. Instead, you are working to build relationships—and future opportunities—with staff members and elected officials. The purpose is to introduce yourself as a relevant and credible leader in your area.

Your goal for that first meeting is to have this interaction be the first of many; to be someone who comes to mind in the future as a subject matter expert and resource. In doing this, know your audience and its agenda. Try to use your alignment with them in your favor and frame your talking points around things that are important to both of you.

  1. You Know More Than They Do

Part of relationship-building is about credibility-building. Remember that you are the expert. You know a thousand times more than the person you are talking to about financial aid, college affordability, and the student experience.

Yes, I know that many people who sit on education committees have previously worked in higher education. But I would challenge you to find a single one who has experience in the Financial Aid Office. They need professionals like you to share insights on what is going on in your world—so they know what is, and is not, working.

You have a responsibility to your students and your institution to share your knowledge with the individuals who are developing policy that shapes our industry. As the expert, it is your responsibility to frame your opinions in a nice, neat gift box—topped with a bow. Remember to keep things at a relatively high level. Otherwise, you will lose people—and that doesn’t help you build those all-important relationships.

No matter how excited you get about calculating R2T4 or the intricacies of a credit hour, your excitement will be lost on those you are meeting with. Talk to them in a way that makes your insights easy to digest.

  1. They Work for You

Those people you’re meeting with? They’re elected officials—and they have an obligation to listen to their bosses. You are one of those bosses. At work, we have an obligation meet with our employees to ensure that they are staying on track. Your meetings in Washington should be no different.

Elected officials need to be reminded of, and educated on, the expectations of their constituents. Even under the best circumstances, elected officials can get it wrong. Though well-intentioned, poor interactions with representatives of the industries they are regulating can lead to unintended consequences that are long-lasting.

  1. Take Comfort in Numbers

Maybe it’s just me, but the idea of attending meetings like this by myself was daunting. I worried that I was not going to connect quickly—or that I would forget what I wanted to say and there would be awkward silence. Finding someone willing to attend meetings with you can alleviate some of this stress.

Ensure that you pick your partner wisely. Knowing that there is a second person to lean on for ideas, examples, and support can significantly reduce your anxiety level. Identify someone whom you mesh well with and who holds similar opinions and ideas. Doing this will give you a partner and a source of feedback for improving your interactions in the future.

Besides the emotional support and backup, it’s nice to have someone to talk to while waiting on security and traveling between appointments. Navigating Capitol Hill can be a little overwhelming—I’m grateful that our National Director Mark McGinnis was there for me!

  1. You Are in the Driver’s Seat

You asked for a meeting because you have something to say. There is a concern, point of view, or opinion you want to make sure is expressed. You are the one who is in control of the agenda of this meeting and others are there to listen and ask questions.

Just remember that your meeting will be relatively short, normally 15–30 minutes, so your agenda does not need to be long or overly formal. Go into it with two or three key things you want to articulate. If this is an initial relationship-building meeting, make sure you are discussing the things that are important to you—and are most likely to be supported by the individuals you are talking to.

And, when all else fails, make sure you keep it simple. Politicians do not care about the minutia of aid administration. You need to instead speak to them in terms they will understand and appreciate. Get out of the forest so you can see the trees (and the cherry blossoms!) and you will be fine.

Keep Scholarship Providers in the Game–and Off the Sidelines (Amy Glynn/CampusLogic)

Scholarships Support the ABCs of Student Finance

At CampusLogic, we focus on three guiding principles to help shape the future of student financial services. They are: Accessibility, borrowing, and cost. We call them “the ABCs of student finance.” It is our belief that every new regulation, initiative, or interpretation should take into account increasing accessibility to higher education, reducing student borrowing, and lowering the cost of higher education.

One way to achieve all three goals is by improving access to, and utilization of, external scholarships. So, last January, when we reviewed new guidance from the Privacy Technical Assistance Center (PTAC) on the subject of data sharing between financial aid offices and external scholarship organizations, we were quite concerned.

As college costs increase, the number of students who count on scholarships increases, too. With more than two-thirds of all college students borrowing money for school today, we believe the use of external, vetted scholarships is one of the best ways to reduce student debt and keep students in class.

A Disservice to Students, Schools, and Well-Meaning Scholarship Providers

The PTAC guidance states that financial aid offices are no longer allowed to share FAFSA/ISIR information with external scholarship organizations. Such data can only be used for application, award, or administration of aid awarded under Federal Student Aid programs, state aid programs, or aid awarded by eligible institutions. This guidance also impacts sharing data with tribal organizations that are trying to manage and award their scholarship and grant funds. Institutions are prohibited from sharing student information even if the student has signed a FERPA waiver requesting that a school release data on their behalf.

Such interpretation is having an impact that goes far beyond the intention of the PTAC, because the ability for external scholarship and grant organizations to allocate and disburse funds to students has now come to a standstill. As it is, the Institute for Higher Education Policy estimates that approximately $100 million in private scholarships goes unclaimed each year. It’s likely that this PTAC guidance is already leaving even more money on the table, because many scholarship providers awards are based on financial needs—which can’t be objectively determined without seeing FAFSA data.

It is for this reason that we are proud to endorse the National Scholarship Providers Association Letter to the U.S. Department of Education. We are certain there is a way to designate scholarship providers as trusted entities that are eligible to receive FAFSA data—and manage it responsibly—per existing statute.

Suggestions for Ending Scholarship Gridlock

In the meantime, we encourage schools to consider these ideas for sharing student information in a way that may alleviate the current scholarship gridlock:

  • Generate a form that a student can fill in with all information necessary for a scholarship organization to award and disburse funds. On the form, include a section where a financial aid officer can certify the accuracy of the student-reported information. Because the student is supplying the information, and the school official is merely certifying the accuracy of the information, the school is not releasing any confidential information to a third party.
  • Create a financial aid summary for students that can be generated upon request and delivered to the student. It should contain all relevant information students might need as part of their college funding journey. This summary could be delivered as a secured, sealed document that can’t be adjusted by the student. Make it available upon request by the student—or automatically delivered to all aid applicants. Doing so would enable students to understand their financial aid package and explore alternative funding options.

Financial Aid Simplification is No Replacement for Accountability (Amy Glynn/CampusLogic)

After watching the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) hearings on financial aid simplification and transparency on January 18, I find myself slightly hopeful—but even more concerned—about the fate and future of our system. The conversation started out on the right note when Sen. Alexander (R-Tennessee) spoke about the need to simplify the process and reduce red tape so financial aid professionals can spend more time working with, and advising, students.

But the most important thing that can be taken from the recent Higher Education Act Reauthorization hearing is that simplification should not be used in place of accountability. Instead, we should be using this opportunity to put structure and accountability standards in place for all organizations that touch the student financial services process.

Accountability: In College, Skipping Tests Earns an ‘F’

Is it preferable to reduce repayment options and loan forgiveness—just because the Department of Education is incapable, or unwilling, to hold loan servicers accountable for high-quality support to students? This doesn’t feel like an answer that would be acceptable in any other industry. So, why is this the go-to response for student loans?

At a time when default rates are on the rise for borrowers with some of the smallest loan balances, we need to be thinking not just about total loan debt but about what is considered a reasonable amount to have to repay, based on income. The recommendation to immediately move to an income-driven repayment process that would be auto-withdrawn from paychecks (like state and federal taxes) is another area of concern. So is the idea of a federal income-share agreement that, to date, has no long-range studies completed—even in the private sector.

That a program of this nature could be implemented without a pilot program, as was suggested, may be one of the most concerning statements I have ever heard. Overhauls like this, without the ability to forecast financial impacts on students and taxpayers, appears not to be a strength of our legislators—as has been proven with current income-based repayment programs and the recent health care reform act.

Eliminating Grants and Subsidized Loans Eliminate Students with High Financial Need

In an attempt to simplify the number of funding options and to increase transparency, the senate committee has suggested eliminating programs targeted at low-income students. If public service loan forgiveness, FSEOG grants, and subsidized student loans were eliminated—as suggested in the PROSPER Act—we would be damaging students further by eliminating programs that help reduce their cost of education.

The answer to creating more accessibility in higher education is not to limit funding to students who are least able to afford it. Instead, we should focus on controlling the cost of higher education and on ensuring that colleges and universities are not inappropriately inflating those costs—eliminating the ability for the neediest students to afford college.

Standards for Award Letters Is a Solid Step Toward Simplification

A great deal of discussion in the committee hearing centered around access to student loans, education about loan repayment, consequences of a one-loan program, and communication surrounding borrowing.

With regard to the latter, testimony from research recently conducted by uAspire & New America provided some very troubling insights. Inconsistent and confusing award notifications are regularly sent to students, with up to one-third of award letters missing necessary cost information, presenting inconsistent calculations of remaining cost, and using inconsistent terminology (e.g., “Federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan” was referenced in 143 unique ways). Additionally, two-thirds of award letters provided no clarification between grants and loans.

Sample award letters provided to the senate committee were confusing; lacked consistency in layout—and appeared to be samples that would not render well on mobile devices. We owe it to students and their families to ensure that award notices meet certain standards to enable informed and sustainable financial decisions about college. This is not to say that a template should be mandated through legislation. Instead, a standard glossary of terms and minimum requirements should be consistently defined. Institutions also should provide award letters to students in a format that can easily be displayed on mobile technology, since one-third of families living below the poverty line rely on mobile technology for internet access.

Solutions Are Needed—Starting with the Cost of College

As we look at increasing access to higher education, and reducing student borrowing, a key component in the simplification process should be about controlling the cost of higher education. That was a topic absent from the senators’ discussion, but will hopefully be on the docket in future sessions. It is impossible to increase college access and reduce student borrowing without managing the cost of education in the United States.

If we want to fix the higher education funding model, we need to make sure we’re curing the disease—rather than simply treating the symptoms.

Financial Aid Web Training Opportunities for November

Dear CCCSFAAA Members:

 

CASFAA is pleased to promote and share 19 different web based training sessions for financial aid administrators provided by our industry partners during the month of September.  Topics range from financial aid compliance and best practices, to helping students managing debt and repayment, to professional development and personal improvement.  These training and informational sessions are available to you free of charge.

 

For more detailed information on the sessions offered and the registration links, please refer to the attached PDF document.  You can also locate the information on the CCCSFAAA website under the training tab at www.cccsfaaa.org.

 

Sincerely,

 

Thalassa Naylor, Director of Business Development

thalassa.naylor@salliemaecom

Sallie Mae