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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Journal of a First-Time Lobbyist

Yet again, the brisk February weather in D.C. required my overcoat. While riding in the taxi to the Dirksen Senate offices, the sun illuminated the landscape to make beauty of the barren winter scenes, and heated my stay in the cabin. With hopes of a successful visit, I recalled the advice of the NCHER round table the previous afternoon. “This is a relationship business,” said one. Another said, “Focus on committee staff because members look to staff for direction.” One panelist even said of his prior staffing experience, “Members voted on my recommendation 90% of the time.” Another point stressed was, “Time is limited; expect up to only 15 minutes. If you speak about more than small-talk, then you have accomplished more than 70% of visits.” Lastly, always send follow-up emails and thank you letters. This helps to cultivate personal relationships and ensures your email address is recognized in their inbox.

My anxiety was still high, but some sense of preparation helped temper it. Knowing my role for the day was to follow Ron Gambill’s lead and add supporting statements to the predetermined points - this most effectively kept my anxiety manageable. Ron Gambill, CEO and Chairman of Edsouth, wields over forty years of industry experience and frequently sojourns to the Capital. By far, Ron is the best person I know that could teach me how to have a successful Capitol visit.

Eventually the taxi came to a stop and the driver asked, "Is this good?" Not knowing where I was, and hoping to conceal my ignorance, I responded with a confident "This is great." Stepping out among the iconic buildings, I comforted myself with a glance at my watch to confirm I had plenty of time to navigate. Within ten minutes, I located my desired location and made time to take some photos of the Supreme Court and the Capitol Building.

Surprisingly, entering the building where the Senators work only required walking through a metal scanner.  No reservations necessary. The halls are adorned with marble floors, marble walls, and solid wood doors. Although the architecture appears older, the magnificence was stunning. The halls were never empty. Everyone dressed well. I even took a mental note that I need to purchase a nice pair of brown dress shoes with a matching belt. Judging by quantity, clearly brown is the new black. Media people randomly jogged after folks or to the next location. Most surprisingly, numerous younger people walk the halls as employees. Not sure if this should be tempered by my personal phenomena of aging, of which I'm still fairly new to in my thirties, but so many appeared in their twenties.

Our meeting with Senator Alexander (R-Tenn.) was scheduled to begin within 15 minutes after our visit with Senator Corker’s (R-Tenn.) staff. Fortunately, both Senators' offices are located in the same building on the same floor. As we walked towards the entry, multiple hallway doors were marked, "Do not enter. Access at 455." Ron shared that all of the rooms on this side of the hall were joined as part of Alexander's office. Since Alexander is a long-time politician with considerable tenure and influence, ample space for him and his team is provided.

Upon entering the office, I consciously followed Ron's lead. We were greeted warmly by three young men. After some small-talk about the weather, Ron and I sat to wait around a small four-top table. Scanning the room, the decorations were impressive. Multiple Tennessee artifacts hung off of aged wood planks, and on the far wall hung a painting of Alex Haley, the author of Roots.

Within a couple minutes of entering the entry office, the door to the conference room opened and we were greeted by Robert "Bob" Moran. Bob serves as Deputy Education Policy Director to Senator Alexander. His enthusiasm to meet Ron seemed much more genuine than by those in Corker's office. I thought these two must truly share a friendship. It didn't take long to confirm my suspicions. I later learned of their long-standing friendship. After sitting at the conference table, Ron introduced our points of concern. Bob lit up with interest. His enthusiasm for the topic brought him forward in his seat and his elbows to the table.

Our first points of concern were summarized as "Simplifying and Improving Federal Student Aid." Currently, Senator Alexander has invested plenty of time on this subject as he aspires to rewrite the HEA instead of amending it. Bob reminded us of the FAST Act that focuses on simplifying the FAFSA and wanted us to specifically address these types of concerns. We shied away from expressing a desired specific number of questions; instead, we confirmed our shared concern to simplify the FAFSA.

All of a sudden, Senator Alexander entered the room and shook our hands. He apologized that he was late and that he would have to leave quickly in order to attend an education hearing on K-12 (also known as No Child Left Behind) as Chairperson for the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. As we were warned at the conference, K-12 reform currently claims the spotlight as members work to create bills to submit by the end of March. Once again, Ron's presence was warmly welcomed. The Senator addressed Ron as a friend and thanked him for his on-going work for students and parents. The Senator sat and briefly affirmed our main points and shared our concerns for education reauthorization. Then, as abruptly as he entered, he said farewell and shook our hands before quickly departing.

As Bob, Ron, and I sat back down, we transitioned to our second points, "Promoting College Affordability and Limiting Over-Borrowing." Bob then jumped in with a series of unexpected comments and questions. I struggled to follow one of his questions as he inquired my opinion on a potential policy. I fought to hold back timidity in my voice and strived to speak with confidence. As a safe surrender, I offered to research the issue more, making a note for myself.

While we spoke with Bob, I was overly impressed with his knowledge of the education industry. At one point, I expressed my enthusiasm to have him working with the Senator during this critical time of reauthorization. Spurred by my compliment, he shared a summary of his congressional experience dating back to his days as a staffer for a Congressman from Pennsylvania. He probably saw my eyes light up after that. After some inquiry, we determined that his jurisdiction actually extended to my hometown of Meadville. Absolutely crazy! Growing up in Pennsylvania, I knew most people either passionately follow the Pittsburgh Steelers or the Philadelphia Eagles. Once he confirmed his loyalty to the city of brotherly love, I knew we could become good friends although our favorite teams are rivals. Although minor, our shared roots provided a sincere relationship-building springboard.

At some point as we were wrapping up our final points, I watched Bob display nonverbal cues in hopes of wrapping up the meeting. He began scanning his watch and reassembling his papers. How could we blame him? Our time with him was approaching an hour. Already we had exceeded the 15 minute time expectation. We also successfully covered all main points and most supporting points to prevent falling prey to the small-talk trap. Ron's presence, coupled with years of relationship building, clearly put us ahead of the average lobbyist. Bob led us to the door and thanked us for the visit. We both thanked him for his time and offered to assist in any way if needed. While walking out of the room, we shook hands with Bob and exited to the waiting room filled with more people waiting for their turn to visit.

All in all, Ron and I visited two Senators and three Representatives over two days. At each visit, Ron was warmly greeted, and similar cordial greetings were extended to me. Witnessing the impact of Ron’s relationships confirmed the importance of the relationship-building advice delivered at the conference the day before.  His diligent work over the years to cultivate personal relationships with staff and members illustrated how successful visits can become. In hopes to start building my own relationships, I sent personalized emails to all staff members we met each evening.

Many say education reform is considered a bipartisan issue, yet we still addressed opposing concerns with staff at a couple offices. I welcomed their apprehensions. It showed their concern for the topic and provided an opportunity for us to work together on a shared solution. Another aspect to consider is that Republicans currently maintain the majority in the Senate for the first time since 2007. During a subsequent panel discussion at the NCHER conference, Senator Murray’s (D-Wash., Ranking Member on HELP Committee) staff representative expressed that reauthorization could take “multiple years due to the complexity of the issue.” Ron suggested, “Democrats may desire to slow the process in hopes of regaining the majority in the next election.”

Looking back, I felt a new appreciation for the political process as I walked beside Ron down the marble halls towards the exit. Thankfully my industry is education - one of noble pursuits and collective concern. I might not have gained the same enthusiasm after our member visits if we had lobbied for something less bipartisan. Although the political process seems "slow," now I believe that my expectations were not properly calibrated. Progress is happening. These issues involve lots and lots of people. It's hard enough to get eight people in a boardroom to agree on contentious issues; no wonder it's exponentially more difficult within the Capitol building. More work needs to be done, and I’m ready to join others in the cause. We all can make a positive difference. I look forward to my next visit to the Capitol.

Larry Rector
Johnson University
Proud TN SASFAA member
TASFAA Executive Committee member

Monday, March 23, 2015

How often does your spring come?


Dear Members & Friends:

Spring has sprung and awakens each of us. It nurtures and revitalizes us.

How often does your spring come? 

If you look at the calendar, it comes but once a year.  If you are creative, passionate, and appreciate beauty, it comes frequently—very frequently.  Take time to enjoy the spring season.

May this spring bring each of us renewals of our faith, love, and caring for others.

SASFAA President, 2014-2015

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Arrival of Spring



"If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome." ~Anne Bradstreet

Thursday, March 12, 2015

SASFAA Attends NASFAA Leadership and Legislative Conference and Expo


SASFAA Attends NASFAA Leadership and Legislative Conference and Expo
~ Implementing What We Learned ~

Submitted by:  Amy Berrier, SASFAA President-Elect 


Several SASFAA members had the opportunity to attend the 2015 NASFAA Leadership and Legislative Conference and Expo on March 1-3 in Washington, DC.  Many of us attended the Association Management Pathway which provided incoming state and regional leaders with valuable tools in helping us to prepare for a successful year in office. 

Our state associations typically send their incoming President, Treasurer, and/or other officers to this conference to help prepare for their upcoming year.  NASFAA provided sessions on understanding legal, financial and management issues every leader needs to know; identifying the characteristics of leadership; leading and managing change and transition within the association; and exchanging ideas with state and regional colleagues.  On the last day of the conference, SASFAA members made scheduled visits to Capitol Hill to advocate directly with our congressional delegations on behalf of our students. 

I was proud to represent North Carolina and the southern region while meeting with staffers from the offices of Senator Richard Burr and Congresswoman Virginia Foxx.  Senator Richard Burr is a senior member of the Senate HELP (Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions).  Congresswoman Virginia Foxx is the Chairwoman of the House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training.  I was accompanied by Joey Trogdon, NCASFAA President-Elect.  Please view Joey’s comments below on items discussed during our congressional visits.

I am extremely thankful for SASFAA providing me the opportunity to attend the NASFAA Leadership and Legislative Conference and Expo.  I was also invited to attend the NASFAA Board Orientation at the NASFAA Office on Tuesday afternoon since I will become an observer beginning at the November 2015 NASFAA board meeting in Arizona.  I learned about NASFAA Board Structure, policies and procedures, and many other responsibilities I will take on while serving as a NASFAA Board Observer and Voting Member in the future. 

Please see what our other attendees had to say about this wonderful opportunity.

Laura Keown, Kentucky President-Elect:

Hill Visit:
I consider it an honor to have had the opportunity to meet with the Senior Education and Appropriations Analyst for the Senate Budget Committee.  Two of us from Kentucky, along with two colleagues from South Carolina, spent about thirty minutes discussing FAFSA simplification, Ability to Benefit, Federal PLUS loan credit decisions, fiscal support for Campus Based programs, and the usefulness of making our voices heard to our elected Senators and Congresspersons.  She took lots of notes, asked several questions, and encouraged us to continue to advocate with our elected representatives for higher education aid – and for any other issues of importance to us. 

The NASFAA staff, including Justin Draeger, did an excellent job in preparing us for our time on the Hill and I found myself really relying on their advice.  Their hints – everything from wearing athletic shoes to the Hill and then changing into dress shoes for the appointment to the most effective phrases to use in our advocacy discussions – were invaluable.

Finally, I am still overwhelmed by the opportunity to make my voice heard at such a high level.  We were told that 95% of our fellow citizens will never have that opportunity, so I am grateful to have been a part of this effort.

NASFAA Leadership Conference:
The conference was jam-packed with excellent sessions to prepare us for leading our associations.  Running a meeting, building a team, the legal status of associations, and all the other sessions were excellent preparation.  And of course, the opportunity to network with other states’ leaders was so helpful for ideas and support.  Finally, the Association Management Toolkit provided by NASFAA, which includes examples of agendas, reports, fiscal materials, conference scripts, parliamentary procedure tips, and much more, will be a resource I’ll turn to again and again as I serve KASFAA.

Amber Singletary, GASFAA Treasurer-Elect:

Visiting Capitol Hill was an incredible experience; being able to advocate for our profession and our students was an honor.  We were able to meet with Michael Black from Senator Isakson’s staff and discuss financial policies.  We advocated for simplification of the FAFSA; however, a two question FAFSA may be too simple.  We agreed that the process needs to be easier for our students and families.   We discussed the opportunities that families would have by using prior-prior tax year data; the FAFSA would be easier to complete since they would be using the IRS DRT and families would know earlier in the process what type of aid their student is eligible to receive. 

Being in our nation’s capital and advocating for students was a humbling experience. 

Sarah Baumhoff, Georgia President-Elect:

As President-Elect, GASFAA sent me to the NASFAA Leadership and Legislative Conference and Expo along with your Treasurer-Elect, Amber Singletary. We spent all day Sunday and Monday meeting with other incoming leaders from across the country. We had the opportunity to talk about association management – membership types, training opportunities, conferences, best practices and so much more. We also spent a great deal of time talking about leadership and how to best serve our organization from how to effectively run a meeting to legal implications of working with a non-profit and serving on a board. This conference strives to make sure we are ready to serve you.
Along with two days of sessions, I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time discussing ideas with other president-elects from other states. It was a wonderful opportunity and to be completely honest, I am still a little overwhelmed with all the information that I brought back.

On Tuesday, we went to Capitol Hill and met with Michael Black from Senator Johnny Isakson’s staff. We advocated for simplification that leads to greater access to financial aid. We discussed the fact that the idea of a two question FAFSA might be too simple, but that there was certainly room for change and to make the process easier for families. We discussed the idea of prior-prior tax year data as a way to simplify the process and let students and families know earlier in the process what aid they would potentially qualify for.

The significance of representing you and visiting Capitol Hill was not lost one me. So many in our country never have this type of opportunity to voice their opinions and advocate for those that we serve. It is extremely awe inspiring to know your voice was heard. I hope to have this opportunity again and continue to tell our story.

Steve Taranto, Mississippi Treasurer:

We had a very positive experience during our Hill visits. Several of the aids we met with (Sarah Lloyd Allred for Senator Roger Wicker; Jordan Downs for Congressman Gregg Harper; Amanda Newton for Congressman Steven Palazzo) were familiar with some of the issues regarding financial aid (simplification, Pell grant, student loan debt, Perkins loan lifeline, etc.), and some even had direct access as members of the Education committee, which we felt was reassuring since they seemed genuinely interested in our comments and concerns. Most of our discussions focused on the issue of student loan indebtedness. I can’t think of any direct quotes, but please know that it was a very gratifying experience to get even a brief glimpse of the activity at that level and the ability to advocate on our students’ behalf. The only comical interchange we had with Senator Wicker during his Mississippi Morning gathering was as soon as we introduced ourselves, he exclaimed, “Oh, you mean the FAFSA!” This was somewhat interesting since he immediately referred to a term that we commonly use as FAAs. It was a light-hearted moment, but hopefully one with deeper meaning as it relates to the issue of FAFSA simplification!

Elizabeth Milam, SCASFAA President-Elect:

The NASFAA Leadership and Legislative Conference & Expo was an enlightening and empowering experience. I felt well prepared for my Hill visits after participating in the NASFAA webinar and the conference session on federal issues. I enjoyed meeting the other attendees who represented a variety of sectors, states and regions. It was eye-opening to hear perspectives on association governance from other parts of the country. I highly recommend this leadership development opportunity.

Ryan McNamara, Florida President-Elect:

If you are an up and coming leader or want to be a leader in your state association, this is the leadership conference for you. The information and insight you receive will really help shape the way you look at your association and the direction you want to take it. 

A conference designed specifically for me. What a great way to meet other future leaders of state and regional associations. 

Nicole Patrick, Mississippi President-Elect:

I feel the Leadership Conference and the Hill visits were very rewarding.  Being able to hear different prospectives and ideas from other states was extremely helpful.  Also, being able to participate in the Hill visits was an honor.  I really didn’t know what to expect going into it and was very nervous.  Once we got started, I felt so much more at ease and comfortable.  I knew going in what an honor it was, but actually being there made it that much more meaningful.  Being able to speak on behalf of our students and their families that we see every day felt very empowering.  The Leadership conference gave me many tools that were necessary to be successful at the Hill visits.  Also, having colleagues from my state with me was very beneficial.   

Joey Trogdon, NCASFAA President-Elect:

Each year, NCASFAA sends people to the NASFAA Legislative & Leadership Expo in Washington, D.C. so they can receive training to help them effectively lead a state association.  As President-Elect, I was fortunate enough to attend the training and found it to be extremely beneficial.  Some of the sessions I attended included topics about a board member’s legal obligations, ethics, conflict resolution, and managing fiscal issues.  While there, I was also able to meet Mr. Justin Draeger, President and CEO of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA), and heard several presentations by well-known and respected speakers within their fields of expertise.

As a part of the training, we were encouraged to make appointments with members of Congress so we could advocate for federal student aid and share real life scenarios that we face each and every day.  Ms. Amy Berrier, President-Elect of the Southern Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (SASFAA), and I worked together to secure meetings with the staff of Senator Richard Burr and Representative Virginia Foxx.  In our meetings, we took the liberty of discussing several issues but highlighted specific areas that we believe need to be addressed such as increased regulatory burden that seems to have drastically increased in recent years, complex R2T4 regulations, FAFSA Simplification, and other issues as prompted.

All of the conversations were very fruitful and I believe that the staffers did listen to our concerns.  In the end, we all know that it is highly unlikely that all of our talking points will be acted upon.  However, we can at least say that two offices have heard concerns and are better suited to make informed decisions.

We are in the midst of a critical point in our industry as we approach reauthorization of the Higher Education Act and continue to tackle important topics such as FAFSA simplification, saving campus-based programs, and examining the use of PPY data in filing the FAFSA.  SASFAA has a long-standing tradition of advocating for financial aid administrators, our institutions, and our students and families at the state, regional, and national levels.  The Leadership Conference provided myself and other state and regional leaders the opportunity to advocate on behalf of these important issues.  The information presented, role-playing opportunities, and legislative updates provided, gave us the tools we needed to make an impact on the Hill, in our offices, and in our daily lives. 

Please join me in continuing SASFAA’s tradition of advocacy, education, and inclusion.  I look forward to continuing Nathan Basford’s momentum into another successful year for SASFAA.  Together, with your voice, we will lead this Association together.  SASFAA will continue to Make An Impact in 2015-2016!

SASFAA President-Elect, 2014-2015

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

FACT SHEET: A Student Aid Bill of Rights: Taking Action to Ensure Strong Consumer Protections for Student Loan Borrowers



From our Legislative Relations Committee, please see information here related to the Student Aid Bill of Rights.





A Visit from the President—My Story

On March 10, 2015, the day started like every other day at the Georgia Institute of Technology with one exception.  The campus was a “Buzz” with the news that Georgia Tech would host The President of the United States, Barack Obama.  The energy on campus was more intense I have ever seen before.  The line looked to stretch for miles, only making the anticipation grow even more.  Once we entered the McCamish Pavilion the atmosphere radiated with the excitement of seeing and hearing the President speak to something so near and dear to the hearts of most in attendance.  The President spoke about the Affordability of Education and how making sure that higher education is something that every American can have if they want it.  He outlined a plan in which community colleges would be free to attend.  Student loans and the crippling debt that students face once they graduate is a huge problem in the educational system today.  He laid out ways that he feels would be helpful in reigning in the growing student loan debt.

He introduced a new declaration of values he coined the Student Aid Bill of Rights.  The Student Aid of Bill of Rights consists of four main principles. For more information regarding the Student Aid Bill of Rights, visit https://www.whitehouse.gov/webform/college-opportunity.

Whether or not you agree with the politics of the President, being within 50 feet of him really made me proud to be an American.  There were no Republicans or Democrats that day, just Americans that want to have the ability to learn and give back to this great country.  It was a great honor in having the ability to see and hear the President.

Submitted by:
Financial Aid Office
Georgia Institute of Technology




Thursday, March 5, 2015

Helping Students with Learning Disabilities

Hello SASFAA! I hope many of you are refreshed from a very successful, productive, and enjoyable Conference in Memphis! The Global Issues Committee would like to spend some time this month discussing students with learning disabilities and how we as aid administrators can help identify and seek action for these students before they fall into trouble academically and with financial aid SAP policies.

When we think of students with disabilities, we often think of physical challenges that hinder a student’s ability to perform and succeed in school. We are also familiar with the ADA laws that require our institutions to be more accommodating to these students. What may not readily come to mind, however, are those students with learning disabilities. These students often “fly under the radar” of our disability support services because there may be no obvious signs of a learning difference until the student falls behind in classes. Many students may not seek out the help of the disability services center because they may not feel that they can be accommodated because they have no physical impairment.

This begins a downward cycle of lower performance in the classroom, followed by decreased confidence, followed by even lower academic performance. Accommodations can be made for these students as easily as finding a tutor that may be able to help the student learn in a different way than the professor is teaching, or by allowing the student extended test taking time.

A study by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute found that the number of students with learning disabilities enrolled in four-year colleges rose from 0.5% to 2.8% from 1983 to 2004.1 This is seen not as an increase in the total number of people with learning disabilities, but an increase in the number that are enrolling in college. Students are getting more help and preparation at the high school level, boosting their chances of getting accepted into college. 

As a higher percentage of students with learning disabilities enroll in college, it is even more important to help identify and accommodate them. The most obvious warning sign of a learning disability is falling grades. However, in many cases, this method identifies the issue too late in order to help the student succeed and prosper in higher education. According to LDOnline, there are several warning signs of a student with a learning disability2:

·         Spells words incorrectly and spells the same word differently in the same document
·         Avoids reading and writing tasks
·         Has trouble summarizing
·         Has trouble with open-ended questions on tests
·         Weak memory skills
·         Difficulty adjusting to new settings
·         Works slowly
·         Poor grasp of abstract concepts
·         Either pays too little attention to details or focuses on them too much
·         Misreads information

Students with learning disabilities may not understand that they have a different way of learning and can often become frustrated and confused that they are not learning the “normal” way. They may assume that they simply are not as smart as other students. This has a negative impact on motivation and confidence and may lead to Satisfactory Academic Progress issues while the student is enrolled. Being able to identify a learning disability and help students find and utilize the resources that we have on campus can greatly help these students succeed, and may even reduce your SAP list!

11. Cole, Diane. (27 Aug., 2007). Learning With A Difference. U.S. News & World Report. 143, (6).
22. Warning signs taken from: LD Online, The educator’s guide to learning disabilities and ADHD. Retrieved from www.ldonline.org.

Submitted by Mark Messingschlager, Thomas More College