The challenged financial aid officer, 2004: financial aid officers anticipate their most daunting challenges for the coming year. (On The Money).
Student population: About 2,500
Primary lender: University of Chicago
"A major challenge for 2004 is financial aid for international students. International students cannot borrow any money in the U.S. unless they have a co-signer for a loan. Almost all loan companies require the cosigner to be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident currently living in the U.S. We have established a no co-signer loan, but we limit the amount a student can borrow because of the default risk. A company collecting on a loan can't sue international students, so, basically, an honor code is what drives them to repay the money they borrow without a cosigner. It's disturbing that due to the bad economy, international students cannot get jobs in the U.S.; they go home where they can't get good-paying jobs, so many are defaulting even after attending a top business school. We are going to explore more loan programs for international students. Our other concerns are increasing loan debt--specifically, the private alternative loan--and increasing tuition costs. We are trying to better educate students to live on a budget and not borrow as much. I hold information sessions with all my newly admitted students, at which time I explain to them what we do include in our cost of attendance, and what we do not include, such as cars. I tell them we have excellent public transportation. I explain to them that they have to live on a strict budget now and I give them examples of how to do that: shopping with cash, not a credit card; having one phone; eliminating cable TV. Many times, I have counseled students out of borrowing additional funds."
OTTO REYER, Director of Financial Aid Western University of Health Science, Pomona, CA
Student population: 1,400
Primary Lenders: WUHS
"One challenge we face is the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. My concerns are about increases in fees that might occur on the loan programs, changes in the school-as-tender program, reductions in campus-based programs and the Pell Grant, and changes in need analysis of financial need. Another challenge is the opening of a new College of Veterinary Medicine in August. To address these challenges, we will be staying in contact with House and Senate committees, and will give personal attention to all aspects of the new college with a counselor focusing specifically on new college issues. I've also been meeting with the dean and associate deans, as issues arise. We keep all staff informed of issues on the campus, not just financial aid issues."
BILL OSBORN, Dir., Student Financial Services College of Eastern Utah, Price, UT
Student population: 1,850 FTE
Primary lenders: Zions Bank and Wells Fargo
"We are facing a lack of adequate staffing, reduced current-expense funding, and a need for computer technology staff. There are also more students requesting re-evaluations based on special circumstances. These appeals require a great deal of additional time from counselors. I don't know how we're going to deal with these challenges, because each requires money and there is no new money in the state. I will do as we have done in the past, and that is, 'get by.'"
DANIEL L. GOYETTE, Director, Office of Student Financial Aid
Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI
Student population: 7,300 traditional undergrads; 10,500 including professional/graduate programs
Primary lender: We are a direct lender; alternative loan programs through Citibank and Key Education Resources
"Our first challenge will be finding new sources of gift aid--scholarship or grant--to help families with growing costs of education. The second will be the need to do the first without adding to the already steep unfunded discounts (tuition revenue as the source) institutions are struggling to reduce. Despite economic downturns, we must depend even more on our fundraising colleagues to increase endowments and spendable income, thereby allowing us to increase funded tuition discounting. There will always be creative self-help sources of educational funding--whether student loans or other creative mechanisms that simply defer payback to some future time--but gift aid is a basic financial aid building block and the ultimate key to success in the recruitment game. (Although we have seen many cases of lost careers and other examples of economic upheaval among our families, the incidence of requests for additional gift assistance has not increased dramatically.) The third challenge relates to the training demands of an ever-increasing level of technology as required by our customers (students and their families) and financing partners (state and federal government in particular, but also private lenders, donors, and our institutions). Yesterday's guidance and counseling graduates who became financial aid professionals are finding themselves challenged to learn new skills. Our many professional associations offer an abundance of opportunities for training, in addition to what we make available in our offices. Our IT departments are a great source of technology training expertise. Unlike just a few short years ago, it is more common now to find financial aid professionals who successfully made the transition to technical slots in the aid office, as well as IT professionals (we just hired one in our office) who have become aid administrators. Another great source of training: the various user groups formed by institutions allied with specific software packages--NASU (for users of the Sigma's SAM) and HEUG (for PeopleSoft users)--are two. The main obstacle to participation in training is anemic operational budgets that force managers to decide who will and will not participate.
JON WILSON, Director of Financial Aid Colby Community College, Colby, KS
Student population: About 750 FTE
Primary Lenders; Bank of America, Emprise Bank, Chase Manhattan Bank
"The top three challenges we are facing right now are: keeping abreast of available technology in communicating with students, providing aid for students using online instruction, and maintaining the personal touch in financial aid administration that we feel is important. The purchase of new administrative software for the college would provide immediate access to students on the status of aid applications, enrollment, etc. It could also reduce the paperwork for our office staff and allow a more relaxed atmosphere as students are counseled in our offices or by phone. Online students would also find the one-stop information point less confusing than the regular mail system now used for financial aid (while enrollment, book purchase, etc., are all available online). The college is planning the purchase, but funding cutbacks from state and local sources may delay it. CCC has seen a 55 percent increase in the number of students completing the FAFSA compared to this date a year ago, indicating a greater sense of need for assistance and/or education to improve job options. There has also been a marked increase in the number of students and parents requesting professional judgment review due to lost income. As to our primary lenders: They have changed in recent years as local banks have ceased participating in the FFEL program, or were sold to banks that did not participate in student loans. Name recognition is an important part of a student's choice of lenders."
STEPHAN SCHNAITER, Director of Financial Aid Lander University, Greenwood, SC
Student population: 2,800
Primary lender: South Carolina Student Loan Corp.
"More students are coming to us with the expectation that their financial need--combined with academic merit--will be sufficient to guarantee that their costs are covered. Many students think they won't need to pay for education, and fewer and fewer students are coming to us with any savings. This seems to be an education issue that needs to be addressed with students as early as middle school. Those who do have family savings have seen the value of those accounts decrease during the current economic downturn. At the same time, with a 12 percent tuition increase, state funding down 18 percent over the last two years, and the economy the way it is, we are receiving more financial aid applications and requests for special financial aid consideration. But state cuts to our operating budget have forced us to lay off staff. These cuts to staff, combined with the increased number of financial aid applications, have forced us to scramble for ways to use the technology we have to increase our capacity before the peak season gets underway."
STUART PERRY, Director of Financial Aid St. John's University, Collegeville, MN
Student population: 1,900 students (St. John's); with sister institution (the College of St. Benedict), about 3,900
Primary Lenders: Wells Fargo, Citibank, U.S. Bank, TCF, Bremer Bank, and Total Higher Education (T.H.E.) loan program
"In Minnesota, like other states, the legislature is working to resolve a large budget deficit that has evolved over the past two to three years. Lacking the political will to raise taxes, our elected officials, including the governor, are cutting expenses to balance the budget. Our two legislative bodies are taking different approaches toward expense reductions in the higher education arena, and our students and we will face a major challenge if student aid--primarily the State Grant Program--ends up on the chopping block. We're working with our legislators to be sure they know the importance of need-based aid, including the state grant and work-study programs. Several staff members accompanied a contingency of students to the state capital to be sure our senators and representatives hear how state-funded financial aid makes college affordable for students at both public and private institutions, and how it represents an investment in the state economy that will pay long-term dividends."
SHARON WILKES, Director of Financial PLanning Randolph-Macon Woman's College, Lynchburg, VA
Student population: 764 students from 43 states and 47 foreign countries
Primary lenders: Many international students borrow under the Signature Student loan with a creditworthy U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen as co-signer.
"According to U.S. News & World Report, R-MWC ranks seventh in the nation in international diversity, with students from 47 foreign countries, most of which are in the top 10 percent of their graduating class. Determining scholarship and financial aid eligibility for international students has become one of our major challenges. The R-MWC Admissions and Financial Aid offices are a closely integrated team; the counselor who works with international recruitment has become well versed on the basic principals of financial aid, and she develops close relationships with prospective students by traveling to their home countries. Since she meets many students and families during her travels, her ability to help determine a student's eligibility for both merit-based scholarships and need-based financial aid is greatly enhanced. A committee on international aid--rather than a lone financial aid officer--considers each student's eligibility for merit scholarships as well as need-based aid. The committee also strives to understand the economic situation of the student's home country. In many cultures, bargaining for the best deal is both expected and respected. Students often try to increase their financial aid offers by working with several schools at once, using one offer against another. When this occurs, it can become difficult to gauge the student's need; bargaining can actually become an obstacle for both the financial aid office and the student. As more and more schools begin to concentrate on internationalization and family finances tighten with changes in the global economy, determining the financial aid award can become a "balancing act." Since we do not offer full-tuition scholarships or grants for international students, the process can become stressful for families and for the college. This past year, the number of appeals for reconsideration of aid eligibility from currently enrolled students has almost doubled, so we are certainty facing a challenge."