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A New Day for NASFAA

An interview with NASFAA President Philip Day
University Business, Jul 2008

<em>FOR SOME PEOPLE, SERVING AS PRESIDENT OF FOUR INSTITUTIONS AND ON THE boards of numerous associations might amount to a full career, but when Philip R. Day left his position at <b>City College of San Francisco</b> he wasn't ready for retirement. Instead he took the helm at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA). He succeeds Dallas Martin, who retired after 32 years as NASFAA's CEO and president. Day arrives at a crucial time for the financial aid industry and plans to further the initiatives that Martin took to improve the integrity of financial aid professionals. Besides City College, Day has also served as president of <b>Daytona Beach Community College</b> (Fla.), <b>Cape Cod Community College</b> (Mass.), and <b>Dundalk Community College</b> (Md.). He recently spoke with </em>University Business <em>about the challenges ahead in financial aid.</em>

DAY: I've always had a compelling interest to focus on the issue of student access, as evidenced by my engagement with community colleges throughout my professional life. In the process of focusing on access, you are drawn to learning what is preventing that. At the top of the list is the issue of financial barriers for the people who are most seriously disadvantaged from being part of the equation. When the position came up I wanted to stay engaged in the public policy arena related to student access and financial aid, and what better vehicle to achieve that?

I have a tendency to always look at things as an opportunity, so I never gave it a second thought. It had more to do with the realities of what this job, in its ideal form, is all about and what I wanted to do with my life. My modus operandi has always been to try to make the very best of it, not only for the organization for which I work, but also for myself. I enjoy what I do and people are beginning to recognize that NASFAA is awakening and engaged and is back in play.

That's usually what I do. When I went to San Francisco in 1998, on my first day, the college was on a labor strike. The following week I had 200-plus students standing outside my office complaining that the financial aid office was not servicing their needs. That's not even hitting the ground running-that's jumping into the deep end of the pool and hoping to survive. But that's what happens. You have a problem, you try to solve it.

I've been engaged in the whole area of government relations and advocacy as much as anyone in higher education who has been a college president. I've been chairman of the funding committees for the state community college presidents. At the federal level I've served on the board of the American Council on Education. I've spent six years on the board of the American Association of Community Colleges and five years on the national advisory council for VocEd, which advises Congress on all elements of the Vocational Education Act.

'Someone once said that NASFAA was a bit like Rip Van Winkle. I think we're now awakening and starting to flex our muscles.'

When I went through the interview process for this job, I told the board I felt that, on a lot of levels, NASFAA had taken a back seat to others. I believed there was a real need, from my perspective, to get out front and be more proactive. I want to aggressively pursue an agenda advocating for the 16 million students and 3,200 institutions we serve, and the 14,000 professionals who, day in and day out, try to do a good job. They are deserving of nothing less than our best effort. Someone once said that NASFAA was a bit like Rip Van Winkle. I think we're now awakening and starting to flex our muscles. I intend to keep all burners on full blast in that regard, because our constituents deserve it and we need to represent their interests.

Exactly. I've got a lot of friends on Capitol Hill, and I know most of the senior governmental relations people at all the major associations up at DuPont Circle and elsewhere. When I was going through the search process, I asked them to give me their assessment of NASFAA, and it pretty much confirmed what I was feeling. But they also know the kind of person and professional that I am, and that when I took over this job, they could expect that there would be some changes. I think they are seeing evidence of that already.

First of all I've got to make sure they're on top of knowing what we are trying to do on their behalf. I also think we need to hear more from NASFAA members. They are the ones who are out there working in the trenches. They are the ones who run into the problems and issues that prevent us from providing effective service to our students. For example, there was a ruling handed down last year from the Department of Education about the need for financial aid officers to be held accountable for ensuring that their lenders were not affiliated with each other. We sent that ruling out to everyone, knowing it would cause some major disruption in the field. Our people in the field were quick to get on this. They said, "This is terrible timing. We're not corporate analysts-we don't know the intricacies of overlapping corporate responsibilities in terms of which lending institution may be a subsidiary of another. We can't be held accountable for it."

We got right on it and forwarded our concerns to the DOE. The combination of us sounding the alarm bell and getting live feedback from the field-the good, the bad, and the ugly-and using that to help build our case, that's the type of thing we need to have more of. It shouldn't be a one-way communication. If people are running into problems and challenges, and somehow we're not focusing on them, they need to let us know as quickly as they can. Our intent is to be advocates to represent their interests and try to make their jobs easier, not more complicated.

I think a lot of things are done that way, without looking at it down the road. I think we've gone over the top. We plan to sit down with [New York Attorney General] Andrew Cuomo and his staff to review what's been put in place, because in many cases it seems to me that our reaction to the rules of the road, and to this late legislation, might be a tad over-compensatory. In other words, we might end up being overly cautious in the way we do business and I don't think that was the intent.

The problem was identified, there was an array of solutions that were identified, and some corrective action has been taken. What we need to do is continually explore how to operate within those parameters. I'm hoping these things are not set in cement and that, as time goes on, we can take another look at things to make sure we're at a place that is not overly rigid and not overly restrictive, and provides us with an opportunity to get the job done.

The good news is that time is on our side. The focus isn't really on financial aid professionals any longer. I think people are coming out of the protective cocoons they went into in response to all this, and they are starting to feel better about themselves. They should never have felt badly about themselves-that's the sad thing about this. To the extent that we identified a series of glitches both at the personnel and the practice levels-those things have been cleaned up. Let's move on. Let's focus on the 98 percent of people at institutions who day in and day out do everything they can to serve the students.