updated 1.27.19

President's Update

Index of Updates

February 2008

Kristin Shear
2008 CCCSFAAA President

Challenges and Choices

(With the circulation of the Green Lights, Red Tape report in December 2007 right before the conference, I changed my planned remarks to deliver to the membership at the December annual business meeting. The report prompted me to think, deeply, about my role as CCCSFAAA's President for 2008, and to begin openly discussing choices that we make as financial aid professionals each and every day in our work. The challenges we often discuss, and the Governor's budget cuts in the January proposed budget just add to the list of possible challenges facing us in 2008 and 2009. But we cannot get bogged down with those challenges and discussing them. We must also discuss the choices that we make, or that our institution's make, that guide our daily delivery of service and aid to our students. "Open access" is the core of our Community College mission in this state, and this open access mission MUST apply to financial aid services as well. We are remiss in our roles as aid professionals if we create (intentionally or unintentionally), barriers to service and aid delivery. So I offer my remarks again, from December, to you the membership...)

We all face challenges in our work and lives; we all make choices and choices come with consequences – some good, and some not so good. Some challenges are so clear, others are more obscure. Choices are sometimes quick, off the cuff, some are plotted and well thought through.

In our work in financial aid, as student services professionals, we face many challenges. An example is a software conversion. Huge challenge: taxing, complex, large-scale. Or Pell Tuition Sensitivity related issues of recent years:

  • Oh, enrollment fees went to $26 per unit – no more alternate Pell.
  • Well, fees went down for spring term to $20 per unit, so some students are on alternate Pell payments, some aren't.
  • Oh, PTS is now removed – YEAH! – now to quickly and accurately get full Pells to students, etc.

The challenges and choices were before us: figure out how to do it, and do it correctly and timely.

Some challenges are more subtle...some choices might not seem like an actual choice that has been made. Remember that inaction is actually a consciously chosen course of action.

Speaking of choices, some examples:

  • When a student has no remaining need for additional FWS or a subsidized loan, or an EOPS book grant, then what? Do we all look to see if a student attended summer school and change them to a 12 month budget? Why, or why not?
  • For foster youth that still have contact with their ex-foster parents, and live with them – do we use an at home or away from home budget? Why?
  • For veterans that have just separated from service, do we use current income level, knowing that their income level has changed significantly? Why or why not?
  • Is a student-written, signed statement that she was unemployed, and living on her sister's couch all year sufficient as a reason for no income and how she lived? Why, or why not?
  • For a student incarcerated that year, is a signed statement acceptable, or do we require documentation of incarceration dates? Why or why not?

In areas such as these, and so many more, there have been conscious choices made on aid delivery, on service to students, and these are somewhat guided by regulations, but these choices are also made based on values, workload, prudence, etc.

The challenge is to revisit these choices, and be sure that they still are the choices you want to make. Remember, inaction is a chosen course of action! Just because it's always been done that way doesn't mean that it shouldn't be revisited and rethought.

We heard from Dr. Joe Martin at the conference: you never know what a difference you might make with what you might do.

Let's go a little deeper...

Satisfactory Academic Progress...you have a policy, recently reviewed and updated. It meets all requirements, it's on the website, it's published and available to all students, counselors, etc. It is fair and equitable. It reflects choices.

Have you ever looked at the students that are denied aid based on not meeting SAP? Are there common demographics?

  • Ethnicity?
  • Age?
  • Gender?
  • First-generation college students?
  • Single parents?
  • English language learners?
  • Non-high school graduates?
  • Reentry students?
  • What is their zip code? Is it a low-income census tract? A particular feeder high school?
  • Have they seen a counselor? How many times, how many different counselors?

Then, look at multiple years of this info and see the patterns, if any. The ultimate goal of financial aid, I like to say, is to move students from drawing from the tax base, to contributing toward it; i.e. "school to work".

Thinking back to those students that were denied petitions (or lost aid eligibility due to not meeting SAP – another group to look at)...

You are your community's college. What will your community be like without these students making the school to work transition? Without financial aid, will they ever be able to make the move?

Your SAP policy is not designed to leave these groups of students out of the educational process, but perhaps it does.

I'm not suggesting to approve every petition and give everyone aid. This is a much more sophisticated a choice than that.

  • Perhaps it is sound not to approve them.
  • Perhaps not. Perhaps you need to take a long look at your SAP policy, and its UNINTENDED consequences and change it.
  • Perhaps as a student services professional on your campus, you could create a task force to identify other support possibilities for these students.
  • Dedicated Counselors?
  • EOPS or CalWORKS referrals?
  • Depending on the data, perhaps a closer relationship with that area high school, or additional outreach to the middle school in that zip code, to share the importance of study skills, grades, etc. and the affect on financial aid eligibility.

Again, think of your community without anything changing.

(I'm borrowing this from someone – I don't remember whom...) Management is doing something the right way. Leadership is doing something for the right reasons.

Check with your colleagues! As CCCSFAAA members, you have access to the CCCSFAAA listserv. There is also the CFAO-ALL listserv. Recently, colleague Brenda Jerez posted a survey on WorkStudy awarding and assignments. They got 60 responses in 2 days! There is a wealth of information out there to support discussion, reflection and possible change.

It is our challenge, to challenge ourselves regularly, and review our choices. Directors – I'm not just challenging you. Staff and counselors, it is your responsibility to challenge your leadership! Ask WHY? Something is being done the way it is. Directors, discuss philosophy and choices with your colleagues, Deans and VPs. Lenders and vendors – encourage discussion and sharing of best practices amongst your customers.

I encourage you all in 2008 to face some of these challenges and revisit or revalidate or change some of your choices.

Because, what will your community be like if you don't? You never know...what a difference you might make with what you might do.

-Kris Shear
CCCSFAA President, 2008

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