When Chris Christensen, director of financial aid at JCCC, received an invitation to the White House Summit on Community Colleges on October 5th, he was skeptical. After checking it out, he verified that JCCC president Dr. Terry A. Calaway had indeed recommended him as a delegate.
More surprises were in store. Christensen discovered he was the only community college representative from Kansas and the conference’s only representative on financial aid. He found himself the primary speaker of the afternoon discussion session on Affordability: Financial Aid to Community College Student.
“I didn’t believe it at first,” Christensen said. “Then I was overwhelmed with the responsibility of being the only financial aid officer rubbing shoulders with top college administrators.”
While other people in the discussion were college presidents, lawyers and a legislative aid, Christensen was the man who had worked in the financial aid trenches.
“I explained to them that we have seen an increase of 100 percent in the amount of financial aid awarded during the last two years,” Christensen said.
While JCCC has a financial aid staff of 15 full-time and 10 part-time employees, Christensen, who serves as president of the Kansas Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, said he receives calls from financial aid officers from across Kansas who are overwhelmed with the increase in aid applications and lack of support from their college’s administration.
“Right now JCCC has about 6,000 students receiving federal aid, and that figure will probably double by the end of summer 2011,” Christensen said.
The JCCC financial aid office handles 9,000 financial aid applications a year, including the 6,000 federal aid applications and others for scholarships and grants. Christensen says the economy and increased enrollment are the major reasons for the rise in aid requests.
Bill Taggart, COO, Federal Student Aid, U.S. Department of Education, attended the financial aid breakout session and engaged Christensen in conversation at a Blair House reception after the summit.
“I think he listened to the issues facing financial aid offices as the administration of aid becomes more cumbersome,” Christensen said.
The broad goal of the summit was to focus on issues of community colleges — need for student completion, better remedial education and more workforce training. Attendees included college presidents, faculty members, students and business leaders.
Introductory sessions began the East Room of the White House with speakers including Dr. Jill Biden, the vice president’s wife and a remedial English instructor at Northern Virginia Community College; President Barack Obama; and Melinda Gates of the Gates Foundation.
In the afternoon topics were: Industry-Community College Partnerships, Increasing Community College Completion, Pathway to a Baccalaureate, Affordability: Financial Aid to Community College Students, Community Colleges in the 21st Century and The Importance of Community Colleges to Veterans.
Conference attendees were given free range of the second floor of the White House so Christensen was snapping photos of Obama and texting them to family and friends.
“It was an awesome experience just to be part of the conference and feel the power and presence of national government.”
Christensen, who has been JCCC’s financial aid director since November 2007, has 13 years of financial aid experience at Kansas State University and Texas A&M University and experience in a private lending institution. He earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Idaho State University and a master’s degree in higher education administration from Texas A&M.