It’s time to do something just for you—and no, that doesn’t mean spending the day at the beach when you arrive in Orlando, Florida to attend the 2019 NASFAA National Conference. When I say ‘do something just for you,’ I mean networking and spending some time on your own personal development. For those of you who are a little introverted like me, stop scowling at me through the screen and take a deep breath. IT WILL BE OKAY.
Networking makes us stronger, better aid officers. It’s a form of professional development that should not be overlooked. If you are new to the industry, seek out a more experienced aid officer, listen to their experiences and learn from them. They are not nearly as intimidating as you likely are imagining—and they are far more approachable than thought leaders in other industries are. I also guarantee that seasoned aid officers remember what it’s like to be in your shoes. Make sure to carve out some time to get to know others at the conference. One—if not the most—valuable resource in our industry is the people in our network. Who do you turn to when you have questions, need advice, or just want a sympathetic ear to the everyday stress of the aid office? Your network. Here are a couple of networking/professional development activities happening at NASFAA that caught my eye:
First- Time Conference Attendees’ Kick-off Networking Event Monday 2:00-3:30pm – For those new to the industry, this is a great way to start putting names and faces together at the conference. Normally very informal, this gathering will give you a chance to get to know others who are first time attendees.
Opening Reception Monday 5:30-7:15pm – The opening reception sets the tone for the rest of the conference. Everyone is full of energy and ready to make plans for the week. One thing that financial aid people do well is work hard and play hard. Take a few minutes to connect with friends new and old.
Establishing Your Personal Brand as a New or Aspiring Director – This session (offered twice on Tuesday) is a must attend for EVERYONE. Establishing a personal brand is so very important not only for you, but for the institution you represent and the students you serve. The stronger your brand, the more chance you will be able to influence both internal and external stakeholders in higher education. Since joining a private business that serves financial aid offices I have learned how much more impact I could have had if I had started to build my brand earlier—and had been more deliberate about it.
How to Get More Involved in the Financial Aid Community Wednesday 10:15-11:15am – Learn a little more about how you can get involved in the aid community at the state, regional, or national level. Financial aid is an ever-changing industry. We’re at a point of accelerated change, our funding model is unsustainable, alternative funding options are entering the field on a regular basis, and the federal and state governments are constantly looking to new regulations. You have two options: lead change or be led by it. If you want to lead, one of the best ways to get involved and build your brand is by joining the community leadership in the industry. This is a good way to learn what that entails.
NASFAA Sessions: Feds R Us
If you have the pleasure of having kids who you’ve taken to Toys R Us, I think you’ll see the connection here. Federal sessions—just like visiting the toy store—are a necessary evil. You know that you’ll spend the entire time holding your breath, waiting for a shoe (or two) to drop. I mean, sure, every once and a while we all make it out unscathed with no one in tears. But other years have been far more chaotic. Fingers crossed, I think this year should be a good one and we will make it through unharmed. We have not seen a lot of change, and I don’t anticipate anything earth shattering in the Federal updates, but it is always good to go just in case. Consider a few of these sessions:
US Department of Education Federal Update Wednesday 8:30-10:00am – Yes, you read that right. The Federal update is first thing in the morning on the last day of the conference. It reminds me of my sophomore year in high school when I had algebra II right after lunch—you can guess how well that went. The federal update is always a good time to hear from the Department on what they have been doing and what they plan to do over the next year. Though the Federal updates at regional conferences have contained very few surprises, it is always good to stay current on what the Department is working on.
A Conversation with Senate Education Committee Staff Tuesday 8:30-9:30am – The Higher Education Act (HEA) Reauthorization is definitely the wild card in the mix. We are several years overdue for an HEA reauthorization. Both sides of the aisle put out proposal last year and Senator Alexander (who is not seeking reelection in 2020) has all the more motivation to put his stamp on higher education legislation before retirement. Reauthorization always has the greatest potential to shake up the industry. And with the continual focus on transparency, accountability, and affordability, when we do finally get a reauthorization passed, it will be a doozey. Aid officers can impact what goes into the legislation, but it requires you to be informed and vocal at the federal level. This session should be a good update of where we are.
Student-Centricity for Everyone
If there is one theme that stands out on the NASFAA agenda and in our national headlines, it is that we need to do more to make it all about students. We all got into financial aid for similar reasons: to help change lives for the better. At times, it may feel like the national and local media are vilifying the aid offices and the institutions they support. We are meant to lead the charge in changing this perception. Many institutions have already taken up the challenge, and you can learn from them and their experiences. A few sessions that might help in this area are:
Student Voices, School Solutions: Basic Needs as a Prerequisite to Student Success Tuesday 9:45-10:45am – Schools have been investing in student success for years, but we cannot truly have student success until we invest in student financial success as well. Student success consists of three pillars academic success, financial success, and career success. This session discusses some of the ways schools are addressing those who are in the greatest financial risk at their schools.
Student Reflections About Financial Aid: Pre, During, and Post-College Tuesday 9:40-10:45am – Financial aid is a necessary evil for many students and it is important that our offices are seen as conduits, not as barriers, to higher education. No one is in financial aid to make things harder on students. But regulatory burden can make it difficult for FA Professionals to both stay compliant and student focused. An important part in making your process better is to listen to those who are most impacted: the students. This student panel offers you an opportunity to hear the thoughts current and recent students have about financial aid—and the impact it had on their financial and professional success.
Continuous Improvement in the Financial Aid Office Tuesday 11:00am-12:00pm – When I was in the aid office, I always thought I was good at change management. Then I began to work for a software company and was introduced to Agile and LEAN project management processes. Though different, they both focus on continual improvement, reflection, and efficiency. You can never have too many tools in your project management tool box, right? And one thing is for certain: you will be asked to do more with less next year, so why not get ahead with an introduction to LEAN methodology?
Let’s Connect at NASFAA
NASFAA is always an awesome time of connection, learning, and discussion. It’s also a highly social event. I often Tweet my very honest thoughts throughout the conference—much to the chagrin of my marketing team who can often be heard saying ‘oh man, don’t retweet THAT one!’ But I digress. Reach out to me on Twitter @AmyGlynn15 and let me know what sessions you’re planning to hit up!