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Flexibility is the Key

July 31, 2015

Some people have asked me what I have learned since starting in Financial Aid, and the number one thing I tell them is flexibility. The world of Financial Aid changes every day, whether from the government changing something, or from the boss handing something new for you to do. It is a struggle to be flexible and stay positive all the time, but we must for the students or none of us would have jobs.

There are many advantages to being flexible at work, but I do not think we take the time to see what they are. According to there are three major advantages for both the employee and the employer to being flexible:

Advantages – from the Employee’s Perspective

  • Embracing change can expand your opportunities. Today’s work environment is always changing. This means that the employees who are able to adapt to this changing environment are considered a valuable asset. As I said before, we all know we are in an ever changing environment.
  • Being flexible can help you strike work/life balance. The way that technology keeps us connected to the workplace means that the lines between work and personal time have blurred. Rather than resist this change, embrace it. Personal needs – once relegated to weekends alone – can be addressed more easily since we are always connected, in and outside of the office. So those late night emails or those long, stressful days before an audit are preparing us for life in the world.
  • Being flexible will make you more responsive to change. The constant change of the workplace means that you need to adapt and respond to chang quickly. Resisting this can lead to undue stress. Recognizing and embracing flexibility will help you adapt to difficult situations more easily.

Advantages – from the Employer’s Perspective

  • Being flexible signals that you value diversity in the workplace. Diversification of the workplace is the new norm. Differing cultures, religions, and employee needs mean that today’s employer must accommodate diversity when it comes to working, thinking and interacting with others. Being flexible will enable you to accommodate the needs of your diverse workforce more readily.
  • Flexibility is a good management decision. Managers need to adapt to day-to-day shifts in workplace schedules – employee personal issues, an unexpected influx of work and so on. Being flexible creates an environment where employers and employees can look at work and personal needs in a balanced approach, which is mutually beneficial.
  • Being flexible is a win-win. Being flexible with your employees is good for business. It builds employee trust and commitment, helps attract and keep key talent, as well as drives everyone to find solutions that work for all those involved.

It takes special people to do what we do, so stay positive and flexible.


–Brandon Winters, Manhattan Christian College (KS)

Brandon is a participant in the current class of the RMASFAA Leadership Pipeline.  Mentees in this year’s Pipeline are all contributing blog posts as part of their leadership development.

Our Outstanding Committees – Nominations and Elections

July 31, 2015

Introducing the Our Outstanding Committees series. Throughout the next 12 weeks you will be introduced to each of RMASFAA’s 12 committees, the committee members and find out all that they accomplished this year. This is week 1 of the series.

One of the great privileges of serving as RMASFAA President-Elect is the opportunity to Chair the Nominations and Elections Committee (NEC).  The NEC exists for the purpose of identifying, encouraging, and bringing forward leaders within our regional association.  In RMASFAA, the NEC is considered a “committee of special designation” – meaning, the representation and composition of the committee is carefully prescribed within our association policies and procedures.  Chaired by the President-Elect, the committee is comprised of each sitting State Delegate and the Associate Member Delegate.  This group meets at least annually to review and prioritize a list of candidates which are ultimately included on the officer election ballot.  The committee can also be called upon to recommend RMASFAA members for national office and to promote participation in the NASFAA election process.

For 2014-2015, the NEC has just realized its primary purpose by having announced the results of the 2015-2016 RMASFAA Officer Election.  As was evidenced by the incredible slate of candidates who were up for consideration this year, the NEC worked diligently to identify the best-of-the-best for RMASFAA’s next round of leaders.  I would like to acknowledge each of the NEC members who contributed so much to this process and express my sincere appreciation for all of their input, wisdom, and expertise this year:

  • Jerry Martinez, Metropolitan State University of Denver, State Delegate for Colorado
  • Brenda Hicks, Southwestern College, State Delegate for Kansas
  • Tina Wagner, Carroll College, State Delegate for Montana
  • Matt Johnson, University of Nebraska at Kearney, State Delegate for Nebraska
  • Valerie Heilman, Dakota College at Bottineau, State Delegate for North Dakota
  • Ken Kocer, Mount Marty College, State Delegate for South Dakota
  • John Curl, University of Utah, State Delegate for Utah
  • Darry Voight, Casper College, State Delegate for Wyoming
  • Michael Amaloo, Professional Connect LLP, Associate Member Delegate

Cheers to a fantastic, fun-filled, and relaxing summer, RMASFAA!!

-Joe Donlay

2014-2015 RMASFAA President-Elect & Chair, Nominations and Elections Committee


July 30, 2015

New Orleans. A city of extremes. Billion dollar skyscrapers stand next to 100+ year old buildings. The Mississippi river ambles next to streets where taxi cabs zip through traffic like the next thrill ride at Disney World. And at the NASFAA conference, bright-eyed “new” financial aid staff sit next to others who have seen years of regulatory changes.

But one thing was ever-present: passion.

Just as the people of New Orleans are passionate about their city, the food and their traditions, the passion for our profession, our students and each other was overflowing. Not even the daily rain shower could slow us down.


From the opening remarks by keynote speaker Hill Harper – yes, the CSI guy and humanitarian – to closing remarks from NASFAA President and CEO Justin Draeger, the theme was passion and commitment. There were lots of update sessions, forums, a debate and great support from vendors. Even a parade!


Yes, to start NASFAA’s 50th Anniversary, there was a parade from the conference hotel to the French Quarter, complete with two bands, beads, and our banner! The celebration will culminate at the 2016 conference in Washington DC. In the meantime, check out the NASFAA web site for activities happening over the next year, as well as lots of pics from this year’s conference.


Everyone left the conference inspired and armed with the power to continue our passion every day. Thanks to all for a great conference. Can’t wait to see everyone next year!


Michelle Massey, Association News Committee Member, Wyoming

Just Say “Yes, And”

July 29, 2015

Improvisational theater has changed not only my personal life but my work life as well. I’ve been lucky enough to have the opportunity to do multiple improv trainings for CAFAA and so it only seemed natural and important to write my blog post about improv. When I reflect back to my work life three years ago, I saw myself as a negative person that said “no” a lot, not only to the students I was counseling but other co-workers too. Being negative at work is so draining and unnecessary, so I’m thankful that my improv training has turned my attitude around.

There are some basic (insert air quotes here) rules of improv, and the very first rule is to say “yes, and”. This means to say “yes” to anything that comes up as well as contributing something, which is the “and” part. In an improv scene on stage saying “yes, and” moves the scene along and helps to heighten, explore, and build relationships. It’s so important to bring this “yes, and” theory back to the workplace because it promotes positivity and creatively. I’m constantly challenging people to spend an entire day, week, or month saying yes to anything. And what I’ve learned (and what my colleagues have learned) is that saying “yes” is very challenging but it’s more rewarding then saying “no” and you will be glad in the end that you chose to stay positive.

The second rule of fight club is you don’t talk about fight club (you’re welcome movie buffs). The second rule of improv is to make statements. How does this relate to office life? Be confident. Be a part of the solution. Innovate. Speak up about your ideas. Be bold. Take risks. Make statements. You won’t regret it, I promise.

Which leads us perfectly into the last important rule: there are no mistakes, only opportunities. The fear of making a mistake has stopped numerous people from being happy and successful in their career. If you take anything away from this blog, I hope it’s this very last rule. I urge you all to focus less upon the mistake and embrace the opportunities.

There’s a saying in the improv world, “If you don’t take risks in life, you won’t take risks on stage.” I’ve never been this happy before with my work/personal life then I am today and it’s because improv has pushed me to take risks and chase those opportunities!

If you are interested in improv or any of the ideas talked about in this blog, I would LOVE to talk to you so please feel free to contact me. Or come play an improv game with me at the 2015 RMASFAA Conference in Westminster, CO this fall. I hope to see you all there!

Erin “Brogs” Brogan
2015 RMASFAA Conference Co-Chair
2015 Leadership Pipeline Mentee
Season 6 Winner of Denver’s Next Improv Star
Metropolitan State University of Denver – Office of Financial Aid and Scholarships


YES, you can take my picture in front of that fountain AND I will make it the best fountain picture ever.

Brogan is a participant in the current class of the RMASFAA Leadership Pipeline.  Mentees in this year’s Pipeline are all contributing blog posts as part of their leadership development.

Hearing vs Listening

July 27, 2015

We spend a majority of our day talking to students and their families about various financial aid topics.  You may feel you heard every detail that was communicated but did you really listen to everything that was asked?  You might believe that you listen all the time but there is a significant difference between listening and hearing.  The simplest difference between the two is this: hearing is involuntary and listening is voluntary.

We all have the ability to hear.  Hearing is an involuntary process that your ears perform.  Anytime an object produces a sound wave, whether it is from a moving car, music from your next door neighbor, or running water, your ears automatically pick up on the sound.

The key to listening is focusing on the subject at hand.  Listening is when we take those sounds and try to make sense of them.  Listening is an active skill that is learned over time. Lots of us have so many different types of distractions that it’s hard for us to effectively listen 100% of the time.  Thus, it is essential to understand the process we go through to completely listen. There are many different diagrams for the listening processing but I think this one explains the process the best:

  • Hearing – The physiological part of listening
  • Attending – The mental part of selecting what is important for the message
  • Understanding – Making sense of the received message
  • Responding – Giving feedback to the speaker, lets the speaker know you are listening
  • Remembering – Ability to recall information received

These steps happen so quickly we do even realize they are happening but you might recognized the area where you are struggling in.

I have been guilty before of having to ask someone to repeat their question or response because I was distracted by an email notification that popped up.  This makes the person who you are talking to feel disrespected in that you are the expert but you are not giving your full attention to help this person.

Even the most effective listeners still have to work on improving their listening skill as new types of distractions and objectives are presented every day, but there are ways to improve this skill:

  • Identify the objectives of your conversations
  • Know your listening habits
  • Generate motivation and energy
  • Eliminate distractions (internal & external)
  • Ask questions in different styles (closed, open, probing)
  • Evaluate your progress
  • Understanding your filters – these are unique to each individual

Unfortunately though, with all these ways to improve our listening skills, the distractions and social media of our digital age is making listening a lost art.  We now communicate with email, messaging, and posts so much that we do not get to use our listening skills, let alone sharpening them.  We need to realize listening is still crucial to not only the way we conduct business on our campuses but how we communicate with others on a personal level as well.  It is those conversations where we are actively listening that makes the student feel like someone actually cares about their issues and it is those conversations that makes our job, however stressful it can get, just that more meaningful.


More Than Meets the Ear powerpoint

Was I Paying Attention? powerpoint

–Mac Schwartz, Assistant Director, Emporia State University (KS)

Mac is a participant in the current class of the RMASFAA Leadership Pipeline.  Mentees in this year’s Pipeline are all contributing blog posts as part of their leadership development.


Training Tip of the Month — July

July 24, 2015

Did you Know

Do I really need to review every ISIR transaction?

Often we look for shortcuts or quicker ways to complete our daily tasks, but reviewing every Institutional Student Information Record (ISIR) is one step we cannot skip.  As Financial Aid Administrators (FAAs) we have an obligation to ensure the right aid is going to the right student.  This includes carefully reviewing each ISIR transaction, even if all aid is already disbursed.

Why do I get multiple ISIR transactions?

There are three types of ISIRs; Daily, Requested and Pushed. Daily ISIRs are generated in response to new applications or corrections. Requested ISIRs are generated by you, the FAA. These are the ISIRs you specifically request. The third type, Pushed ISIRs are generated by the Central Processing System (CPS).  Knowing the type of ISIR could help determine the best way to review.

Why do I need to review all ISIRs?

Each ISIR transaction is generated due to a change, update or correction. It is important that you review for changes in EFC, C flags and NSLDS information. You also need to check for any updates or corrections to the student and/or parent information. Multiple ISIRs could reveal conflicting information that needs to be resolved. Per federal regulations (34 CFR 668.16 (f)): An institution must develop and apply an adequate system to identify and resolve discrepancies in the information that the institution receives from different sources with respect to a student’s application for financial aid under Title IV, HEA programs. In determining whether the institution’s system is adequate, the Secretary considers whether the institution obtains and reviews:

  • All student aid applications, need analysis documents, Statements of Educational Purpose, Statements of Registration Status, and eligibility notification documents presented by or on behalf of each applicant.

See also Volume 2, Chapter 3 of the Federal Student Aid Handbook: FSA Administrative & Related Requirements.

True or False: Since I’ve already verified the student’s file, I do not need to review her subsequent ISIR transaction.

False! Per Chapter 5 of the Application and Verification Guide (FSA HB June 2015: AVG-125), you are generally required to review all subsequent transactions for a student for the entire processing year even if you verified an earlier transaction. You must review the ISIR transaction for any conflicting information and should check for updates and/or corrections. If the EFC has not changed and there are no changes in the C flag or NSLDS information, no action is generally required. If the EFC does change but it either doesn’t affect the amount and type of aid received or the data elements that changed were already verified, no action is required. But if the EFC changes and the pertinent data elements were not verified, then you must investigate. Of course, any time the C flag changes or NSLDS data have been modified, you must fix any issues. The Department of Education regulations are clear that any conflicting information has to be resolved. Your actions will vary depending on the change.  Keep in mind that your Student Information System may determine automatically which ISIR transaction is “active” in your system, but it is still the school’s responsibility to review for accuracy, then package and disburse off of the correct transaction.

True or False: Since I’ve already disbursed federal aid to the student, I do not need to review his subsequent ISIR transaction.

False! You may not disburse aid until conflicting info is resolved, and may need to recalculate aid that has been disbursed if the resolution results in eligibility change. If you discover a discrepancy after disbursing FSA funds, you must reconcile the conflicting information and require the student to repay any aid for which he wasn’t eligible, unless he is no longer enrolled for the award year and will not re-enroll.

Keep in mind that regulations on conflicting information do not distinguish between information that a school receives as a result of its own request and that which is unsolicited. ED has a broad definition of “received.” If anyone working in an official capacity at the institution receives information — via e-mail, regular mail, fax or in person — the information is considered received for financial aid purposes. A common question regarding conflicting information is: “May I ignore or shred unsolicited documents?” The school is not permitted to ignore or shred documents that may substantiate a students’ eligibility for federal aid.

Devoting resources to reviewing the subsequent ISIR transactions is important, not only for accuracy in awarding, but it could also save you from an audit finding!  Happy reviewing!


2015-2016 Application and Verification Guide, Chapter 5

Federal Student Aid Handbook, Volume 1, Chapter 1

Federal Student Aid Handbook, Volume 2, Chapter 3

2015-2016 ISIR Guide

FSA’s online review of conflicting information policies

Department of Education presentation: Welcome to Applicant Data Resolution Part One

2006 FSA Conference Session 34 “The Institutional Information Record (ISIR)”


34 CFR 668.16(b)(3) and (f) – Standards of Administrative Capability: Conflicting Information

USA Funds Conflicting Information Webcast Manual and PPTs

This Tip of the Month was provided by your RMASFAA Training Committee

Breaking the Communication Barrier with Technology

July 22, 2015

In this day and age, face-to-face meetings seem to be a thing of the past.  As a result, North Dakota State University is continuously trying to ensure we offer various methods of communication and information delivery to our students.  Providing different forums for students and parents to utilize information most pertinent to them has proved to be quite effective.

This past week, NDSU implemented its first voice blast.  In the past, large numbers of students have always been contacted by e-mail.  Student feedback showed that e-mail was becoming less effective because of the sheer volume of messages they receive on a daily basis.  Students would repeatedly tell us they did not know we were waiting for a tax return transcript, MPN, or their FAFSA for the right year!   Given the volume of students we needed to contact and the importance of the information, we knew we couldn’t send an e-mail that would be ignored. We needed an effective way to contact our students quickly!   Our office researched and ultimately decided that an automated calling service could help us solve this issue of contacting students quickly and efficiently.   This past week we sent our first voice blast to 830 students that have not responded to our request for verification documents needed for the fall semester.  A mere 30 minutes after the blast was initiated, we received roughly 50 calls back from students.  This process quickly prompted students that weren’t attending our institution to notify us and alerted students that were unaware they were selected for verification.  Only time will tell how many more students will receive their financial aid on time.  This process is new, but we hope that it will help us communicate more effectively with this new generation of students.

July will mark our third live chat session which is held in collaboration with the Admission Office, for incoming freshman and transfer students.  Representatives from Admission and Financial Aid are available online to answer general questions in the “lobby”, or more specific personal questions via private chat with specific users.  The lobby allows us to welcome students and parents, offer general information and links, or invite them to chat privately if they have specific questions.  The chats are scheduled for 2 hours in the evening for the convenience of those who cannot contact us during regular business hours.  Due to the success of the live chats and the positive feedback received from students and parents, we will be offering them on a monthly basis from March through July beginning in 2016.

Lastly, social media has become one of our fun, yet informative strategies that has proved helpful in reaching students and parents.  It seems like everyone is on social media these days, even your dish soap and deodorant brands have a profile, so why not the financial aid office?  Our office manages both a Facebook and Twitter account.  We post to our social media accounts daily with information on a variety of topics such as money management, scholarships, and employment.  Our content comes from a variety of sources and is prescheduled to be sent out three to five times each day utilizing a free online product called Hootesuite.  Hootesuite, and other products like it, allow us to curate content for our social media sites as well as create our own content and preschedule it for the upcoming week, month, or year.  This has been a fun way to engage with students and parents and share important information.  We will frequently share or retweet articles from Federal Student Aid, who also offer a variety of great resources to share with students and parents.

–Andrew Berntson, Association News Committee Member North Dakota

Andy Berntson