Overheard at Colloquium: Attendee Eric Johnson Talks Communications and Financial Aid
Overheard at Colloquium: Attendee Eric Johnson Talks Communications and Financial AidCollege Board Communications
Why did you decide to attend this year’s colloquium?
I attended last year and learned an enormous amount. I think it’s a great opportunity to get reenergized about the core of what we do. Over the course of the year we get caught up in the semantics of our day to day jobs and it’s wonderful to be reminded of the purpose and mission of our work.
We just heard from panelists about the importance of communicating about the price of college. As a financial aid professional, talk about your reaction to this session.
I’m surprised by how infrequently communications comes up in terms of student aid access. I was also surprised by how much frustration there is around aid communications, but I understand why it exists, especially when you look at the resources colleges devote to admissions communications, or policy maker communications. It’s striking to think that aid officers feel so badly under-resourced in this way.
I think we feel like it is somehow crass to message around aid, but the reality is, it’s a public service.
Schools that do cost communications best, in terms of ease of use and presentation, are for-profit institutions and tuition-dependent small colleges, and that’s because they have to.
Especially for those of us at an institution with a public service mission as a core part of our identity, we have to start looking at aid communications in that context. Done right, it’s a service to students and families.
How did you end up working in higher education?
I really wanted to work for Shirley Ort, who is one of the true believers in the core mission of higher education. I met Shirley when I was a student journalist at UNC and she was one of the most consistently open and helpful people in higher ed. I was lucky enough to work with her on some one-off projects after graduation, and now I get to work with her full time.
Working for Shirley has been a great chance to learn the ins and outs of a very complicated an increasingly important corner of higher ed—and there was no way I was going to miss out on that chance.
If you had a piece of advice or encouragement for someone thinking about pursuing a career in higher education, particularly in the financial aid arena, what would it be?
Financial aid is the most fascinating areas of public policy to me. It is one of the most complex and politically contentious public benefits and in that sense it is a great place to gain experience to pursue a career in politics, public affairs, economics—it is widely applicable no matter where you see your career going.
What’s valuable about Colloquium, in particular, compared to other higher education conferences?
Colloquium is much more conversational, and a little rawer than most higher education conferences I’ve been to. In that sense, it’s more productive. I would say there is more honesty in the way people are talking to each other, and I hope some of that spills over into our public discussions of these issues.