From our Members: Perspective Through Partnership
From our Members: Perspective Through PartnershipGail Holt, Dean of Financial Aid at Amherst College, Incoming CSS Assembly Council Chair
The end of summer in a financial aid office brings with it behavior patterns as predictable as "back to school" sales in July. Each day before the fall semester bill is due, a corresponding increase in emails and letters—asking for additional financial aid to reduce net cost—comes in. There are also, predictably, a few new applications.
These always seem surprising, as we presume families were aware of the published cost of tuition when they were admitted and when the enrollment deposit was paid in the spring. Why does the balance due date elicit planning that could have occurred months earlier?
The routine patterns have a common theme: The struggles of affordability are real for all families. The letters that we review from April to August tell the tales—economic realities and demands on family finances change over time; living expenses across the county change; salaries don’t keep up; periods of unemployment set families back for years; one car households become two car households. Families from all socioeconomic levels are struggling to meet the costs that remain after financial aid, or without financial aid, regardless of the generosity of the college. And the pressure on college resources change over time.
This reality is a refrain echoed by the College Board’s outgoing CSS/Financial Assistance (CSS) Council Chair, Jon McGee. He often says, “Colleges must not only decide who can afford them, but who they can afford.” While colleges promote messages of accessibility and affordability, with the significant amounts of financial aid given across the board, families also want to believe the assurances they hear from colleges.
I first decided to engage with the College Board’s CSS Council—a group of leaders in the field, from diverse backgrounds and experience, who are dedicated to solving the problems of affordability in higher education—because I thrive when I’m part of a dedicated team of individuals striving to better serve students and their families, our institutions, and the public tax payer. I am driven by the opportunity to learn from and with my colleagues that have experienced success and challenges different from my own. I believe passionate discussions about policy application and the development of services advance our quest to achieve affordable solutions.
Solutions to challenging problems are best solved in partnership. Fortunately, there are many resources that can make those partnerships successful. The talent within the College Board membership is leveraged in a variety of ways:
- Members engage in learning and building solid educational foundations through the Financial Aid Institute.
- Dedicated and knowledgeable Council members from all sectors of our community form the leadership of the College Board; in this role, they also oversee the services College Board makes available to support institutions in the equitable distribution of financial aid, in particular the Institutional Methodology.
- Financial aid methods are being deeply discussed and examined through the work of the College Need Analysis Roundtable (CNAR).
- Colleagues from across professional areas of higher education connect during the National Forum to exchange ideas and spark innovation and discuss best practices with tools and services.
Successful partnerships require leveraging as many educational opportunities and gathering as much information and research as possible. Dialogue among colleagues is a crucial ingredient in partnership to thoroughly vet ideas and cultivate new growth.
Each of us has a role in partnerships, whether we serve institutions of higher education, or public entities, or student beneficiaries. And strong partnerships require participation from all. Institutions must continue the work of serving the breadth of socioeconomic diversity, and they must ponder questions about the mix and proportion; fiscal sustainability necessitates the continual search for balance. Public entities, state and federal agencies, must continue their investment in higher education. Pulling their support in favor of other priorities is self-limiting. And students and families must be thoughtful and reasonable in their search for fit. Their expectations must be sound and viable for the full length of enrollment, not merely year-by-year. Debt forecasting is a crucial component as well.
I look forward to the privilege of serving as the incoming Chair of the CSS Council, working with my colleagues to help (or "nudge") students to choose their best option. The affordability challenge is, in part, a result of ill-formed choices, and the long-term effects are usually apparent only after commitments have been made and institutional promises seem to have failed. I believe we can get ahead of this, using our experience and knowledge to enable students to make informed choices about their post-secondary and future professional goals.
I hope you’ll join me this year. Getting involved is easy—nominate yourself or a colleague to serve on one of College Board’s governance committees, attend the national or regional forums, submit your own perspective on financial aid and affordability on the All Access blog.