Talk to any college financial aid officer and you’ll notice when they refer to “my families,” they’re not talking about their own spouses and children. To a financial aid officer “my families” are the people they counsel on a daily basis. “Their students” are the people they’re entrusted with helping afford a college education.
For most financial aid officers, students are not numbers. They’re people with whom they build relationships, people they care about and often see through from freshman year to graduation. They’re a special breed and quite often go above and beyond the call of duty.
We spotlight some of these financial aid stars here. If you know of other financial aid stars, write to us AffordableCollegesOnline@gmail.com. We might just spotlight them on this site.
“Every situation is special and unique,” she adds. “Our conversations with families run the gamut. There are difficult situations where parents are incarcerated or there’s an abusive relationship. There are also students who come in to talk to us about things that have nothing to do with financial aid. They come because they know us and we’re a friendly face.”
It’s no surprise students forge relationships with Kiper. When a transfer student realized she was being cited as being in default on prior educational loans, Kiper confirmed the student’s default status was an error, and contacted the prior school several times to correct the situation. When an international student and his mother, both struggling with their English, called Kiper for assistance in completing the international student aid application, she stayed on the phone with them for more than an hour until the application was completed. A freshman told Kiper she’d been unsuccessful in securing a work-study job on campus, so Kiper picked up the phone and called various campus departments until she was able to get her a job.
Jim Bourgeois is another Tulane financial aid officer who goes out of his way. When a medical student, distraught because his grandfather was dying, stopped by the Tulane financial aid office to see if emergency funds were available for him to fly to New York, Bourgeois ensured the student was eligible for the additional aid and promptly processed it. The student was able to fly to New York before his grandfather passed away.
One of Tulane’s medical students sadly had his life cut short from cancer. During this difficult time, Bourgeois communicated with the student’s parents and diligently worked to ensure all of the student’s federal student loans were properly discharged. He even convinced a non-federal private lender to discharge the student’s loan.
Heather McDonnell is a prominent and outspoken financial aid advocate who travels to high schools around the nation offering guidance and counseling to families. In a recent Interest.com article, she helps students identify potential financial aid scams and protect their personal information when applying for college scholarships.
“Being in the financial aid profession is often a selfless career,” says Teri Cochran, director of student financial services at Northeastern State University. “Our success in the Financial Aid Office is due to the combined caring, efforts, and exertions of all of our staff, not just one person.”
Cochran recently helped a student who had an outstanding balance on his account and was unable to enroll in classes, which put him in danger of losing a state grant. She worked with the student and the university business affairs office to develop a payment plan so the student could enroll and not lose his grants.
A student recently wrote to the office praising financial aid counselor Shelly Dreadfulwater. As a first generation college student with no family financial help, this student worked closely with Dreadfulwater to figure out and meet her needs. “I am so thankful to her and the financial aid office,” says the student. “With this chance, I’m able to realize my dream of becoming a teacher where I can help Native American children.”
An NSU senior praises counselor Krista Wheeler. “When I came to Krista to inquire about funds for a second study abroad trip, she met with me for an hour to figure out how to make my dream of going abroad again come true. I never hesitate to go to her or any of the staff with questions.”
Staff members at USC Santa Barbara’s Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships created an award winning tutorial titled “Seven Easy Steps to FAFSA, A Student’s Guide to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.” It’s a tool to help simplify the FAFSA application process. The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators awarded it a prestigious Gold Star Award, recognizing innovative ideas in the financial aid arena.
NCASFAA won a NASFA Gold Star award in 2012 for being one of the first financial aid organizations to focus on the role of aid administrators with our returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. The NCASFAA created a Veteran’s Task Force to educate members about re-entry issues veterans might face when they enroll in higher education programs.
Interviewed in a financial aid video, Alison Rabil, Director of Financial at Duke University, offers some great advice and guidelines. About filling out the FAFSA, she says, “It’s like going to the dentist. You do it because you have to, but you’re much better off because you’ve done it.”
In April 2012, a group of Rutgers University students who depend on financial aid shared their stories with lawmakers at the New Jersey State House. The students were pleased that legislators and staff members generally agreed with the Rutgers message to preserve financial aid, but they didn’t always feel they were “preaching to the choir.” With fierce partisan battles in Congress over balancing the budget, students did hear support from both Republicans and Democrats. They know additional funding, while always needed, is unlikely in today’s budgetary and political climate, but they emphasized the importance of financial stability.
Lynne Myers is part of a team dedicated to attracting the best students to Holy Cross, regardless of their financial circumstances. Holy Cross is one of a select group of colleges and universities that accept students regardless of their ability to pay (“need-blind admissions”) and then meet 100% of their need, as calculated according to nationally recognized financial aid criteria.
Nearly two-thirds of students receive some form of aid, with an average award of more than $26,000. Myers, as well as some Holy Cross students, share useful advice in the video “You Can Afford Holy Cross!”
Financial Aid officers are experts in their field and are valuable sources of information. Helen Nunn, Director of Financial Aid at Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna University offers 10 excellent tips for financing college.
Newly appointed to the role of Dean of Financial Aid at Amherst College, Gail Holt is a rising star in her profession. She’s known for her unbending commitment to need blind admission and access, an ability to articulate that mission, and a warmth that makes her very popular with students, families and colleagues.
Bucknell’s financial aid director, Andrea Leithner Stauffer, offers advice on student loan debt. She discusses what types of loans are available, which are less risky, what other types of financial aid you should consider, and how your school’s financial aid office can help.
Recently recognized for 25 years of service at Ohio’s Ashland University, Stephen Howell is a true financial aid veteran. Steve’s passion in his career has been to help students afford a private higher education even though family resources alone won’t allow it.
“When I started my position at Ashland, it meant so much to be able to help students achieve their goal of attaining a college degree and it’s just as exciting for me today,” says Howell. “I know I am able to make a difference in students’ lives and that is so satisfying.”
Online resources about financial aid for college are plentiful. Many do charge for services, but the ones listed below are free and offer good information or low-cost resources, such as helpful books.
Student Aid Alliance is a coalition of 77 higher education organizations united to support federal student aid and advocate against cuts. Join them on this site and make your voice be heard.
Believe it or not, the federal government has created a comprehensive and helpful website. It walks students and families through the stages of preparing for college, applying for aid, and even managing loans upon graduation.
Mark Kantrowitz is a noted financial aid and college planning expert. He established FinAid.org as a public service in 1994, now an award-winning site offering student financial aid information, advice, and tools. Kantrowitz also publishes FastWeb, the largest and most popular free scholarship matching service.
He is the author of three books about student aid, including Amazon.com bestsellers Secrets to Winning a Scholarship and FastWeb College Gold: The Step-by-Step Guide to Paying for College. Kantrowitz has testified before Congress about student aid on several occasions and is regularly interviewed by national news outlets.
NASFA is the professional organization for student financial aid administrators. Although its website is mostly geared toward people in the field, it does offer an excellent financial aid section for students and parents.
David Feldman, Chair of the Department of Economics at the College of William and Mary, focuses on the issue of college costs both in his blog and book. Along with co-author Robert Archibald, Feldman presents food for thought on the debate about the cost of higher education. Says Feldman, “Our take on the subject may intrigue you. It may enlighten you. It may infuriate you. But I doubt it will you feeling indifferent.”
IEFA.org provides up-to-date, free, comprehensible and searchable lists of scholarships available for study around the world.
College Made Simple, a free educational resource, publishes a useful weekly blog on a variety of financial aid topics.
Tuition Coach offers free tools to help families lower their education costs, and includes a tool to evaluate financial aid packages.