Tag Archives: financial aid

Twelve Months and Holding

I went through some Evernote notes while I was on lunch today, and added some tags so I would be able to sort through them easier in the future.  I found one from January that I titled “Countdown to Burnout,” where I was tallying up the amount of time I had spent in each of my full-time financial aid jobs to date.

This most recent gig at UW Colleges is not the best paying or the most interesting job that I’ve had in this field.  But it is probably the best fit with my employment sensibility at this stage.  It has positives like extremely low (i.e., never in-person) student contact, easy-going management, and reasonable workload.  As I think back to how my other financial aid gigs ended, I can point to specific markers that made me feel I had to go:

  • Oshkosh, Round One: I had grown tired of living so far away from Michelle, and wanted to find a job that would make my personal life a little easier.
  • Milwaukee: I had completely burned out in a high-stress, low-reward position with minimal opportunity for change.
  • Oshkosh, Round Two: While I might have been ready to be a manager on a personal/professional development level, I was not ready to succomb to financial aid as a long-term career, and had some personality conflicts at work that were extremely stressful.

I was probably disillusioned after the holidays, and thinking about how I wasn’t making any tangible progress on my thesis at the time that I wrote this note.  As of today, having finished my master’s degree and feeling more like I get to be in control of how my life progresses than I have since 2002, my work situation is not as bad.  Do I love it here?  No.  Do I want to stay long-term?  Also no.  Do I realize that, in the grand scheme of things, I could do a lot worse, employment-wise?  Absolutely.  I guess I just don’t feel as trapped in financial aid as I did before.  I feel like I have qualifications that I could sell to other people, and do other things.  For now, though, it’s pretty comfortable.  It’s respectable work.  The flames aren’t creeping over the horizon just yet.

The Financial Aid Experience In a Nutshell

I have a feeling that in years past, the position that I have at the university (financial aid administrator) was a pretty cake spot. You help kids fill out forms, you do some calculations, you hand out some checks (this is a rough approximation of how things worked, based on my conversations with older colleagues).

It’s definitely not like that anymore. I could see myself burning out on this job in the next 12-18 months because you can’t say to a kid, “I know that that loan is not enough. I know that the money they say your parents can contribute isn’t there. I know you can’t get a loan from a bank on your own, and I understand that you will be imprisoned by debt for the next 20 or 30 years even if someone helps you to secure one. What can we do for you besides hand out loans? Nothing. You are screwed.”

This is not uncommonly The Truth for people that I talk to, and as a relatively compassionate individual who wants to help the other humans, it’s infinitely frustrating for me. What am I supposed to say instead? How can I, from my position, initiate change? Even if they could create other government-funded programs, where is that money going to come from? How do we fix this?

When the Higher Education Act of 1965 was signed by Lyndon Johnson, it was intended to (and to a great extent, did) allow people who would not normally have access to higher education strictly because of prohibitive cost into that arena. The effect? Universities are no longer the realm of white-male-upper class only.

But people are falling into the margins again. I meet with students every week who are choosing between going to college or supporting their families. Even more, this is an area where Great Pinch of the Middle-Class rears its head– you are well-off enough to not necessarily be living paycheck-to-paycheck, and your parents probably could help you get a loan, but there is no way you can do this WITHOUT a loan, and free money is just not available. The folks that I see getting by are:

  • both extremely poor AND academically strong, or
  • in the military, or
  • among the top 1-3% in academic performance

It is a depressing scenario to contemplate, and I find it extremely unsettling that what I have to say to students more often than not is, “go find some way to get a loan.” I am a living example of the financial prison that is educational debt.

I’m not saying that I always made the best choices about money when I was in college, and I don’t want to imply that I don’t deserve to be paying back what I’m paying back. But just 10 years later, even students who ARE smarter, and will work harder, and have a better idea of what they’re getting into, now lack a choice. If you want a degree, you have to pay for it.

And I don’t know if that’s fair.

Quiet (Good) Friday

I finally have a couple moments to breathe today.

It’s been a really hectic week of work, just due to the volume of processing that had to be accomplished. I feel bad that I haven’t really been inclined to blog even when I get home, in part cuz I’ve missed the news for most of the week…

What *can* I tell you?

I thought the end of the business with Iran and the British sailors was pretty interesting. I don’t think anyone can really fool themselves into believing that anything Iran does right now won’t have some effect on the international response to their nuclear program. Personally, I can’t imagine why any nation’s leader with half a brain would want to get into a pissing contest with G-Dub– just give us 21 more months, and it’ll all be over, everyone will be able to relax and stop sleeping with an ICBM under their pillow.

Well, except for Israel, of course.

In sports, the Brewers 2-1 start to the season is nothing to sneeze at. They can’t win every game all season, but hell– if they win twice as many as they lose all season, that will make them… (ponders the math)… 108-54. They’ll never win that many games. They could get sort of close to that and still be unbelievably awesome. I’ve been saying to people, “less than 90 wins will be disappointing.” I’m going to stick by that. It’s only 9 more victories .500 ball, and should be totally do-able for this group.

The only two things that have been troubling to me so far this year:
1. Carlos Villanueva’s shaky first appearance of the season (I think he’ll be OK in the long run)
2. Jose Capellan’s crybaby attitude

Note that both items relate to pitching, which is the most important thing to this club– they’re still very young, and are going to be prone to streakiness at the plate. They need consistency somewhere, and there are a lot of dollars invested in the pitching staff.

Last sports comment of the day: If you want to believe for a second that the Bucks are NOT trying their damnedest to tank the season while appearing to not tank the season, then please follow this link to some listings for a lovely condominium development I’ve recently invested in down in the Mississippi delta.

I went off a couple weeks ago about the integrity of my profession, to the confusion of some and the disinterest of others. If you are at all interested in what has become the hottest news item in financial aid departments across the country, check out this article from Inside Higher Ed on some new info that’s being turned up. I still think that the vast majority of my colleagues are ethical and honorable people. It’s this 1% or less that are (A) making the rest of us ill, and (B) going to cause some changes in the way we do business. Just a matter of time… Until then, my hope is that the students don’t suffer more confusion or stress than they already have.

I’ll be in Madison this evening (Friday) and then the Milwaukee area for the duration of the weekend. Plan accordingly.

Have a happy Easter!

A Man Walked into a Bar Quick-Moving 4×4 Peppered With Giant Spikes

This is probably my busiest “processing” week of the year at work. We got started on the upcoming aid year, and trying to juggle two at once always presents a lot of time-consuming issues. On top of that, I have to get a whole mess of nursing students set to go in the next couple weeks…

I understand that for most of you, what I do at work is not really interesting or relevant, but I thought I would just mention “what I’ve been up to.” Yesterday, as I communicated to a few different people, my brain was mushy enough at the end of the day that I just wanted to be beaten over the head repeatedly with a heavy, blunt object. Like a 2×4. Or something. Next week will probably be better. Opening day on Monday, anyway…

In other news:
Joe & April had a good time in Germany, judging from the reports I’ve received. April’s folks are coming into town this weekend, now that the Knitts actually have enough room to house guests at their domicile. I was surprised that I didn’t get any feedback about the wallpaper that was on the computer when they got home, but I decided that there is probably some revenge scheme afoot that I’ll be surprised by later.

Jim Droste asked me to read at his wedding in June. I graciously accepted1. Unfortunately, Michelle won’t be able to join me, since that’s also WILS seminar weekend. I’ll be looking forward to it either way…

I caught myself up on some things about the house last night that have been nagging at me, so I’ll feel OK doing some “recreational tinkering” this evening. I think I might get a HDTV tuner card for the PC. I’m curious about the sort of reception I’d be able to pull through the air. I guess I should go the Internet to find the facts about how well that would work.

I’ve had to type the word “verification” in a number of emails this week. Makes it seem strange that I have consistently been misspelling it– most often, it’s “verfication” instead. Spell check is good. I think you should consider spell-checking all your email before you send it. Even the casual/personal messages. Just push F7. That’s it. Every time. Make it a habit. F7 to check, then F9 to send. Unless you do the mail through the interwebs, then I don’t know what the hell you got going on.

I’m really just rambling here, time to tune in for Brewers baseball2.

  1. I also just realized that saying I’ve known someone for 10 years really isn’t that mind-blowing anymore. This fall, I will have known people I’ve known only since college for 10 years. That really doesn’t mean much, I guess, other than 10 years used to seem like a significant segment of time. []
  2. Yesterday, I sent the guys an email with the subject line “Could someone please pot Kent up?” but if my experience in broadcasting is any indication, the message was met with a middle finger, and the delete button. Doesn’t hurt to ask, I guess []


    • CAUTION: professional soapboxing ahead…

When people ask me how well I like my job, I often respond that I like it well enough, and that I vastly favor it over anything I could do in the private sector. I’ve chosen to work in higher education because I believe that it is noble to pursue knowledge, which is what the students around here are alleged to be doing.

Regardless of how much I can/could/do complain about stupid questions, helicopter parents, or disagreements with co-workers, the fact remains that I view the core responsibility of my job to be:
help students find the best means they can pay for college, if they can’t afford it on their own.

The fact that the costs for education (even at a public institution like mine) are spiraling out of control without federal aid programs keeping pace is a separate issue from what I do. I am not the person with whom a student or parent should file grievances about the paltry amounts of federal and state grants, or the fact that an extremely profitable private loan industry has sprung up to fill the gap between what students can get by working with my office, and what the people upstairs have billed them. These issues should be raised with state representatives, governors, and Congressmen. As a professional, I am doing what I can on those fronts through continued membership/involvement in national and regional organizations whose purposes are to offer feedback and guidance to the Administration in power.

That being said, back in my cubicle, I put forth my best efforts to address the questions of students who visit me, and offer the best advice that I am privy to. When my school made the choice to align itself with a particular private lender, I and all of my colleagues were wary of the notion that we should point a student in a particular direction, rather than laying all the options out for them (this even after we conducted market research on what product would be the best option for the majority of our students). Our director reminded us that choice is something our students would never lose, and that we should responsibly remind them of the plethora of loan options available (I always have, and will continue to do so). This is just one example of how I think the ethics and moral standards of people who choose this profession are of the highest order, and the perception of my “core responsibility” is shared among my colleagues.

The value that I place on my ethical standards is why I and the vast majority of student aid administrators around the country are appalled at the notion that we would ever put the students interest second in our daily work.

One johnny-come-lately lender, who, make no mistake, is focused squarely on the millions of dollars it thinks that it should be making (rather than the umpteen hundreds of others), has managed to create a national issue out of student borrowing by positing baseless accusations and employing devious tactics to muscle its way in. This is the company questioning MY motives, and doubting MY integrity.

A long-standing lender (with whom I have not always had the best experience) surprised me by offering a well-thought-out response to a recent story from CBS News on this topic.

There has already been enough written or said about the specifics of this situation that I don’t see reason to hash through it again. But if you are in college, or have friends, siblings, or children who will one day (sooner or later) be in college, I would encourage you to watch the CBS report and also read the response. Most importantly, please have faith in the student aid professionals at your school, who are the only ones within this debate who have nothing measurable to gain by the accumulation of student loan debt.