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Why We Do What We Do

April 16, 2015

Next fall, the oldest of my great-nieces will start college. How did this happen? Yesterday she was running around her backyard on a stick horse. I feel so fortunate that I am in a position to help her get through the myriad of forms she will need for college smoothly and easily. Because no matter how hard we try, the Financial Aid Office continues to be the scariest place on campus.

Yes, we know we’re fun, helpful and full of great advice. But sadly, just coming to or calling the office can strike fear into even the most intrepid students and parents. We’re not alone. Places like car dealerships and the IRS are scary too. Part of this is just due to the nature of the beast. Most students who contact us don’t even know what to ask. Most of the other offices on our campuses don’t understand what we do either. They just drop students on our doorsteps with the words “these good people will help you”.

And then we take over. We put their minds at ease and guide them through the process. We send follow-up letters and emails. And we give great advice.

  • File your FAFSA early
  • Use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool
  • Read everything
  • Ask us questions if you don’t understand (not your room-mate’s cousin’s babysitter)
  • Don’t borrow unless you have to

And the list goes on.

But isn’t it always a great feeling when, after helping someone complete the FAFSA, they say “That’s it? That was easy!”  And we see the stress leave their faces. It’s that feeling that gets us out of bed in the morning even when our pets don’t insist on it.

And what advice do we give each other that keeps us going?  Well some of that probably shouldn’t be printed in a blog. JK. But one of the best pieces I’ve heard recently is: You won’t learn all of financial aid in a day, week, month or a year but understanding why you do it is the first step!

I’m so blessed to do what I do every day! I hope you have a wonderful day too!

Michelle Massey

-Michelle Massey
Association News Committee Member, Wyoming

President’s Update

April 13, 2015

Happy spring, RMASFAA! It hardly seems possible that two months have passed since my last blog post, or that I’m nearing the halfway point of my tenure as RMASFAA President. (My wife lovingly reminds me that time flies when one gets old and senile.) Frankly, it is easy for me to feel overwhelmed as I think about the constraints of time and how much work there is to do in order to progress toward the noble goals of our Association and our profession at large. I will admit that I frequently feel weak and inadequate (and sometimes I wonder if I’ve done any good at all!). Gratefully, very often during such moments, I bump into the collective strength of friends and colleagues like you, and I remember the quote from Helen Keller that I shared at our last RMASFAA conference: “Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much.” I see so many examples of synergy and growth that simply would not occur if we all operated in isolation, and I feel energized and encouraged once again.

Yesterday, I spoke with a professor friend on our campus and he mentioned a recent experience with a young man in one of his classes. This particular student has taken several courses from my friend and has struggled every time. However, just last week he made a surprising contribution to his current class that was both unique and valuable. Retelling the experience to me, the professor reported: “Everyone has something to offer.” I believe one of the greatest opportunities that comes with my current position is having so many chances to see that very thing in action. When we each offer what we can, simultaneously supporting and learning from one another (or as Helen Keller put it, living “by each other and for each other”), the whole truly does become greater than the sum of its parts, benefitting both the individual and the larger group.

At the end of February, I had the privilege of joining with a strong, collaborative group of RMASFAA volunteers who perfectly embody this concept. I am pleased to report that your Board of Directors and Committee Chairs are actively making contributions in order to strengthen our Association, which essentially means providing more value and support to you. It is both inspiring and encouraging to watch them innovate and complement one another in many ways. It is even more inspiring to consider the many others who were not at the meeting, but who are making contributions of their own and moving the work of RMASFAA forward. The Board takes very seriously our responsibility to represent and recognize the combined efforts of so many. Highlights of the meeting included working with Justin Draeger (NASFAA President & CEO) to identify what RMASFAA does best and explore ways to increase efficiencies and better align our efforts with RMASFAA’s unique mission, as well as those of NASFAA and the state associations. We also rolled out a new and improved online process for expense reimbursement, continued work on the development of a proposal for updating RMASFAA’s corporate support policies and structure, and formalized our recognition of the outstanding work in each committee. I invite you to take a few minutes and review the reports under the “Leadership” section of (official minutes of the meeting will be posted by the end of April), and also to identify one or two ways that you can get involved and add your own unique contributions to the work of RMASFAA.

Edward Hale, a 19th-century American author, historian, and Unitarian minister, said, “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.” So I pick myself up and move forward, contributing where I can and trusting that, when combined with the perspectives and efforts of so many others who surround me, my simple offering will somehow make a difference and we will all be a little better and a little closer to our goals. I invite every RMASFAA member to participate in this remarkable process, whether by taking part in the Leadership Pipeline program, attending Summer Institute or the annual conference, thoughtfully providing feedback to guide RMASFAA’s long-range plans, casting an informed vote for future officers of the Association, networking and sharing best practices with colleagues, or in so many other ways. Your perspective is valued and your participation is very needed. Go ahead and put us to the test! I think you’ll be surprised at how much good we can do. Together.


SAAS Photo

NASFAA update from RMASFAA Past President

April 6, 2015

NASFAA’s Board of Directors (BOD) meets face-to-face three times per year – fall, spring and summer.  The BOD met in Portland Oregon on March 23 – 24 2015 to review the business of NASFAA.  The two day meeting consisted of reports from the president, Justin Draeger, providing an overview of thresholds, targets and risks associated with the strategic long range plan.  Additionally, the financial affairs committee provided the BOD with a review of the financial health of the Association and compared current income and expenses to previous years.  Association Governance also provided the BOD with reports from a variety of areas including board tenure, treasurer tenure and the strategic long range plan review process.

The two day meeting also provides an opportunity for the other regional presidents and past presidents to get together and discuss issues and concerns that are coming up in the regions.  Training topics always seem to be on the top of the list for all of the regions.  Some regions are offering training on enrollment management models and verification versus conflicting data.  Many regions offer a summer institute type of training opportunity for their membership and most of the summer institute like trainings are offered in the month of June.

RMASFAA and SWASFAA are the two regions out of the total of six that utilize an institutional membership model.  All other regions offer an individual membership format.  At times it is difficult to compare regions as not all are modeled the same.  As a reminder, all six regional past presidents serve as the voting member to the NASFAA Board of Directors.  All six regional presidents serve as observers to the NASFAA Board of Directors.

Many of the regions are currently working on or revising their strategic long range plans (SLRP).  The SLRP assists the regions in planning and preparing for the future.  NASFAA assists all regions with many functions the more all of us can work together the stronger we all become.

Respectfully Submitted
Jeff Jacobs
RMASFAA Past President

South Dakota State Update

April 3, 2015

Spring has sprung in South Dakota (or at least we think so)! As always, it has been a busy and eventful year in financial aid offices around the state as well as in our state association, SDASFAA.

We just finished up our Spring 2015 conference in Deadwood, complete with guest speakers, great presentations and a slot tournament!

Jesse O'Connell

Jesse O’Connell, NASFAA

Although no one won BIG (enough to retire from the financial aid profession), we all had a good time! Distinguished guest presenters included Jesse O’Connell (NASFAA), Joe Massman (Dept. of Ed), and Art Young (RMASFAA). We also were treated to a very thought-provoking presentation by Kim Bellum (Lake Area Tech) on “How Poverty Impacts Your Work in Education.”  As the conference theme was #FinancialAid, we also focused on ways to use social media to communicate with our students.

Joe Massman

Joe Massman, Department of Education

With the conference being in March, we even held our own “Final Four” basketball tournament (using a kiddie hoop of course, so that some of us had a chance). The overall winner of the tournament was Becky Pribyl, Northern State University.

Becky Pribyl

Becky Pribyl, Northern State University

Special awards:

  • Outstanding Service Award – Ken Kocer, Mount Marty College
  • Doug Steckler Professional Development Award – Erin Richards, SD School of Mines & Tech
Kristi O'Kief with Ken Kocer

Kristi O’Kief with Ken Kocer

As our President Ken Kocer stated, “Many times we have so much on our plates we don’t take the time to realize what we all have accomplished.” He went on to outline some of SDASFAA’s other achievements this past year.

  • Creation of a SDASFAA electronic logo
  • A successful 2014 spring conference in Sioux Falls
  • Updated our Policies & Procedures & registration cancellation policy
  • Hosted a Round Table discussion on financial aid issues with US Senator Tim Johnson
  • We represented SDASFAA by testifying in front of the US Senate Committee on Banking, to voice our views on private student loan issues
  • Conducted Decentralized training in November
  • Presented several successful high school counselor workshops around the state
  • Maintained a balanced budget!

SDASFAA committees have also been working on planning for the upcoming RMASFAA Conference which we will host in Rapid City in 2016….Watch for more information on this exciting conference we are planning for you!

Brenda Murtha

Brenda Murtha

Brenda Murtha
Augustana College
Association News Committee Member, South Dakota

RMASFAA Website Employment Listings

March 27, 2015

Did you know that RMASFAA has an Employment Listings section now?  True story!  It is just one of the benefits of your RMASFAA membership.

In the past, folks would send out job announcements via RMASFAA-L.  This was fine, but it did not provide any central location for all active RMASFAA job openings.  The Employment Listings does just that.  You can find this section in the top menu of the RMASFAA website at


Posting or viewing listings is easy!  Simply click on “Employment Listings” near the top of the home page.  You will then have the choice of “View Open Positions” or “Submit a Position”.

–Robb Cummings, Chair, Electronic Initiatives

Training Tip of the Month — March

March 24, 2015

Did you Know

Are we all speaking the same language? Do you often find yourself in meetings with colleagues from other departments and wonder if you’re on the same page as everyone else? Do you get that blank look from students or parents when you are enlightening them about financial aid? If your answer is “sometimes” or “yes,” then you are not alone! Here are a few tips that can help you communicate in the same vernacular with your students, their families, and folks from other departments in your school. You can keep your secret language (and secret handshakes!) for your office or financial aid conferences.

Don’t assume everyone understands FinancialAid-ese (or: E-I-E-I-O)!

Even though we may use our acronyms and lingo daily does not mean that everyone has a clue what we’re talking about. Be sure to explain terms that may be unfamiliar to someone outside the profession. Strive for clarity especially with students and their families and always define the acronym you are using!

Terminology matters!

Your students especially need to understand the basics: grants vs. loans, what is an award letter, what is Work Study…  Do you include definitions online? Is your Consumer Information clear with vocabulary and free from acronyms? Consider including a fact sheet or glossary with award letters or other mailings that may have confusing jargon. Have a financial aid glossary page easily accessible online with the most important terms. Do a “Did You Know?” or “Tip of the Week” post on your social media sites that includes financial aid definitions.

Interdepartmental communication matters, too!

Simple terms (to us) like “no show,” “census date,” or “disbursement” may mean something different to colleagues outside of your department. Does “no show” mean “never attended” to you but “showed up the first day and then disappeared” to faculty? Since the difference has an impact on financial aid, it’s important to collaborate with other staff and faculty to be sure you’ll all using the same definitions. How about “disbursement”? Does that mean funds are transmitted to a student’s account or a refund check is available? Clear up the confusion by collaborating with other departments to create an interdepartmental glossary all employees can understand. Have that glossary as part of your P&Ps and available online or via your campus network. Create a fun definitions game to have during in-service or hold a training during lunch. Keep in mind that changing regulations can yield new or changed terminology, which can contribute to the confusion, so your collaboration will need to be an ongoing effort.

Speaking of languages…

Do you have resources for a varied audience? As your school population becomes more diverse, be sure your school has information available that everyone can understand. Are you bilingual or do you know who in your school is bilingual and willing to help with translation when needed? At the very least, are you aware of online translators like Google translator? Do you provide FAFSAs and brochures in Spanish? What about resources for blind or deaf students? Is your office area accessible to handicapped students?


There’s no shortage of glossaries available to link to or use definitions from for your web or printed publications. Here’s just a sampling:

Federal Student Aid:


The College Board:


American Education Services:


English-Spanish Glossary (TG and the Department of Education):

Other Resources has Spanish and braille publications:

TG’s Spanish-Language Resources:

FinAid’s Ayuda Financiera del Estudiante en Español:

EducationQuest’s Information for Students with Disabilities:

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

Out of the Office: Wellness for RMASFAA Members When We Are Not Working

March 20, 2015

The Association News committee is introducing a new series that highlights what our members do when they are “Out of the Office”:  hobbies, sports, clubs, philanthropy projects, etc.   Discussing all of the things that enrich and improve our own lives. Mostly, it is an opportunity to learn more about your fellow RMASFAA members when they are “Out of the Office”.   In order to help others, we have to take care of ourselves…..and that is what this new series will highlight.

The Family Journal


When I was in junior high, my English teacher, who I had a crush on, suggested we all keep a journal. Of course, I went straight home that night and got started. I took a regular, old spiral notebook, and began to write all the things that were important to a fourteen-year-old boy. I look back at it and shake my head at the things I felt were so important then that now seem very silly. I kept writing in that same journal through college. During my fifth year of college, I married my wife, Kathy. Two years into our marriage, we had our first child, Robby and then very quickly had our daughter, Gracie. It began a new chapter in my life, so I tossed aside the old, self-centered journal and began our family journal.

I went to Barnes and Noble and found the nicest leather journal. I encouraged the kids and Kathy to write in it whenever they wanted. I also said it could be around for generations, so be careful what they wrote. Basically it is all my writing except for a few errant drawings and very short entries from my kids (after many gentle, passive-aggressive suggestions). Kathy was much better about it.

The family journal is now full of what we did on vacations, the day great-grandparents passed away, what we did on a lazy Sunday afternoon, the recipe for our family spaghetti sauce. I can open to any page and remember that scene all over again in clear, vibrant technicolor. If our house caught on fire, the family journal would be the one thing that I would take with me. (Well, I would grab Kathy, too.)

A family journal is a good way to keep life in perspective, especially when work gets busy. Here are a few of my suggestions for keeping a family journal of your own:

  • Buy a nice, sturdy journal that can be kept out on the coffee table and will stand the test of time.
  • No pressure. You can write in it daily, weekly, monthly – I missed a whole year once. Just don’t make it a task.
  • Tuck it into your suitcase when you go on vacation and record what you do. If you forget it, write on the hotel stationary and tape it into the journal later.
  • Try not to turn it into a scrapbook. Keep it simple. You may not always have time to print pictures, but you can always scratch down a few lines.
  • You don’t have to have a “family” in the traditional definition. Start one of your own ponderings, or with you and a loved one. Force your friends to write in it when they come over for dinner. The more entries from important people in your life, the better.
  • Entries don’t have to be an outpouring of emotions. I have a few entries that are bulleted lists of the day. Again, this journal is what you want it to be.

Jim Harris, Association News Committee Member

Jim  Harris