Ok, who out there is just like me? You know who you are (who we are). We’re the people who get an email or text reminder to check in for a flight to a conference and suddenly realize we have not looked at the agenda. At all. Not even a little. Meaning we likely will have to spend the whole flight coming up with a plan for the sessions we want to attend. But that never works out well either, does it? Fast forward 12 hours from your flight and you likely find yourself multitasking during the conference’s opening session, trying to figure out where you are going to go next—while simultaneously kicking yourself for not being more prepared.
This year, I decided to make life easier—for me, and hopefully a little bit for you. If you are going to the National Association of Financial Aid Administrator’s (NASFAA) annual conference, happening in Austin, Texas this year, read on. What follows may help you narrow things down, start planning, and get ahead of the conference chaos.
NASFAA 2018 Sessions: Fun, Fun-ner and Fun-nest!
Let’s start with the no-brainer must-see sessions—I know what you’re thinking, “Here comes the shameless plug for CampusLogic sessions.” Nope. I’m defying our marketing team (even though I love them dearly) and am leaving those product-y sessions off this list. In all seriousness, I have broken it down into levels of fun: Fun, Funner, and Funnest.
Fun: The Feds are back!
You know you’re a financial aid lifer when you get excited because the Feds are back at NASFAA. The last few years we’ve seen a suspicious absence of Federal Trainers speaking and presenting at NASFAA conferences. This year, they are back—probably a result of early FAFSA and not changing the FSA conference dates, but I will take it any way I can get it.
This year, be sure to check out the Department of Education Federal Update happening Tuesday, June 26 in the morning. Spoiler alert: my money is on an announcement about a delayed #FAFSAApp, but since our livelihoods are in the hands of the Feds, it’s always good to hear what’s coming in the future from them. The Feds are also hosting sessions on Direct Loan Reconciliation. It’s always a crowd pleaser, but I really can’t figure out why. I mean, the process hasn’t changed in years but the session is always packed! If neither of these feel like a good way to spend your time, you can always attend R2T4 Advanced Concepts, Common Origination and Disbursement System Updates, or FAFSA 2018-19 and Beyond.
Funner: Research and Policy Updates
There were many days in the aid office where I found myself so busy trying to put out the fires in front of me that I didn’t have time to plan for the fires on the horizon 6 or 12 months down the road. Sound familiar? Conference attendance helps me literally walk away from my desk and phone, and step back and look at some of the bigger picture items. I could focus in and learn more about strategic and regulatory initiatives that would allow me to get ahead and stop that next small fire before it hit full-blown disaster stage. NASFAA 2018 is packed with sessions highlighting research and policy updates that will help you get ahead of your specific battles. A couple to consider include:
Communicating Cost: A Comparative Analysis of Award Letters from Colleges Across the Country sheds light on research into one of the primary roles of the aid office—providing clear communication of cost and funding options. This session focuses on a qualitative and quantitative review of more than 6,000 award letters, identifies best and worst practices, and offers recommendations for future.
Reauthorization of the Higher Education Act is something that is on everybody’s mind. If it’s on yours, plan to attend the Behind the PROSPER Act session. Way overdue for reauthorization, the House’s version—known as the PROSPER Act—is currently at the center of the discussion. If you aren’t sure how the PROSPER Act will impact your institution and students, this is a must-attend session. Understanding the bill will give you a chance to identify areas of advocacy that you can undertake before it is too late.
Funnest: Peer Pressure Works (It Does!)
There are some really amazing peer-to-peer sessions on the NASFAA 2018 agenda. One of my favorite things about this conference is the opportunity to learn from other schools—from people like you who are in the field, working the front lines, and know your pain. Peer-to-peer sessions are a great way to hear about best practices actually in place, not the hypothetical best practices the Feds may throw out.
Fundamentally, I think it’s a key responsibility of financial aid to increase accessibility, reduce borrowing, and increase completion, so finding best practices that support those efforts is always on my to-do list. If these align with your strategic initiatives, consider the following:
When Disaster Hits at the Worst Possible Time. Access isn’t just a one-time issue. We need to be focused on providing continued access to funding options that are sustainable. Over the last few years, natural disasters have hit the country hard. Learn first-hand how several institutions overcame these trying times and ensured continued access to financial aid resources at times that were personally, professionally, and financially difficult for students. There needs to be access to emergency funds and procedures to ensure continued access even in times of natural disaster. This session is a must
Student Debt Letters: Lessons Learned I’ve been advocating for the use of an annual debt letter to students for years. An unintended consequence of the Master Promissory Note, along with entrance completed once, is that students can easily lose track of the actual debt they hold. This session will explore the results of University of Minnesota, Twin Cities who has been sending student debt letters for three years.
Newer Approaches to Facilitate Student Success with Financial Aid Programs Financial aid plays a key role in each student’s ability to continue through their program of study and graduate from your institution. One of the greatest challenges facing higher education today is the crisis of students who hold debt but don’t have a degree. Learn what institutions are doing to combat the financial difficulties facing students to help ensure a clear success path.
NASFAA 2018: Networking Matters
None of these session suggestions should overshadow the fact that one of the most important things to do at a conference is to network. Getting to connect and re-connect with your peers is one of the most powerful and important things you can do. Having a circle of people you trust to call upon when times are tough, or simply when you need someone else’s interpretation of an issue is so very important. Take some time and enjoy the company of those in the financial aid community. Not sure if you know this, but we work with some pretty AMAZING people. Take some time to enjoy and appreciate how complex and diverse the job is that you do every single day. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to stop into the exhibit hall and pick up the newest #IMakeFinancialAidAwesome sticker—they are pretty darn cute this year!