About Erika

I currently serve as the Director of One Stop Enrollment Center at The University of Texas at San Antonio. I've been in the industry for over 13 years and greatly enjoy helping students and families realize their dream of obtaining a degree. I currently serve as the Chair for Electronic Initiatives for SWASFAA and am Texas Delegate.

How Wolves and SWASFAA Are Simliar

Sent on behalf of Conference Chair, Harold Whitis

There is a story told of an old Cherokee teaching his grandson about life.  “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight, and it is between two wolves.  One is evil:  he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

He continued, “The other is good:  he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.  The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

AS FAAs I believe that you come to the SWASFAA Conference to feed the “good” wolf!  We all work with a lot of great people in our “pack” who strive every day to be kind, benevolent, empathetic, generous, truthful, compassionate and faithful.  I am continually impressed by my colleagues and hopeful for the future of student financial aid and the student’s we serve.  It is the hope of the conference committee that you find a way to be fed at this conference.

We look forward to seeing you in Grapevine!

The SWASFAA Fall Conference Committee

Fall Conference Wolf Facts

Sent on behalf of Conference Chair, Harold Whitis:

The Great Wolf in You!

Have you been thinking of “wolf facts” sing the last blog?  Here are some more that are symbolic of what student financial aid is all about and how we are similar to a “wolf pack”.

  • Male wolves can be called many things, primarily the “alpha”.
    • Regardless of gender, we call our leaders Directors or other variations.
  • The “beta” wolf occupies a position immediately below the “alpha”.
    • This is an Associate Director usually.
  • The “omega” wolf is one or more wolves, male or female, that occupy the lowest position in the pack hierarchy. This wolf often plays the role of the scapegoat.
    • In financial aid, this is usually the person who just left (forever whatever reason) after the most recent audit.
  • Wolves are carnivores, which means they eat meat as their main food source. They also eat fruits and vegetables to stock up on nutrients not found in meat.
    • We all try to take care of our physical needs.
  • Wolves work together to catch their prey.
    • As FAAs we work together on many things when the voice or efforts of all members are necessary to tackle the issue.
  • A pack mentality of extreme loyalty and devotion to the group binds the wolves together as a unit, despite times of scarce prey or violence. For example, while the alpha wolves rule the roost, they ensure that any pups get their fill of food before the others dig in.
    • We are all bound together in a common cause. Article II of the SWASFAA Constitution says the purpose of the association is to promote the professional preparation, effectiveness, recognition and association of student financial aid administrators, postsecondary institutions, government agencies, foundations, and private business and others in educational institutions, government agencies, foundations, and private and community organizations concerned with the support and administration of student financial aid.

As you can tell by now, wolves are pretty complex animals but not very different from FAAs.  Sure, we buy our meat at the grocery store and prepare it at home in a nice, clean environment.  I like the part about extreme loyalty and devotion to the group and that the wolf is a symbol of guardianship, ritual, loyalty and spirit!  I’m proud to work with the devoted group of FAAs in SWASFAA!  I’m sure you have stories to relay about how they have help make “The Great Wolf in You!”

We look forward to seeing you in Grapevine!

The SWASFAA Fall Conference Committee

The Great Wolf in You!

Sent on behalf of Harold Whitis, Conference Chair

So, you see the 2017 SWASFAA Conference theme of “The Great Wolf in You” and then you see the logo!  Those wolf eyes are scary looking, huh?  Well, let me talk to you about the theme a little.  I personally think that choosing the theme is one of the hardest things to do when you are on a conference committee.  It drives everything about the conference from activities to food to advertising, etc.  It has to be a little catchy but not too corny.  We chose “The Great Wolf in You” for a couple of reasons, the obvious of which is the location.  The Great Wolf Lodge!  When you check in, believe me, you won’t be scared.  Everyone gets to wear a set of wolf ears.  Nothing says “I’m not scary” like a set of wolf ears!

But back to the theme.  Here are some “wolf facts” that are symbolic of what student financial aid is all about and what led us to this theme.

  • A wolf is a symbol of guardianship, ritual, loyalty, and spirit. A wolf has the ability to make quick and firm emotional attachments, and often needs to trust their own instincts.  Thus they teach us to do the same, to trust our hearts and minds, and have control over our own lives.
    • As financial aid administrators we are guardians of federal, state and institutional resources. We are loyal to the cause and often have to trust our instincts, hearts and minds to guide our students as they strive to control their own lives.
  • Wolves are very social animals. They live and hunt together in groups called packs, which is another name for a family of wolves.
    • FAAs are social! We come together to learn and become experts in our craft but also to enjoy the company of our peers and student financial aid family.
  • For the most part, they mate for life although some males may bond to different females in different years, destroying the long-held “mate for life” myth.
    • Enough said….
  • Younger wolves do not overthrow the “alpha” male in the pack. They are dispersed from their parent’s packs, pair off with other dispersed wolves and start their own pack.
    • We train our staff to go out and have blossoming careers and enjoy watching them do so. The Sir Richard Branson quote (paraphrased) goes:  “We train them so well they can leave but treat them so well they don’t want to.”  I take pride in the fact that many of those I have hired went on to have successful, if not extraordinary careers.
  • There are only about 200,000 wolves in the world with about 5,000 in the lower 48 and 7,000 to 11,000 in Alaska.
    • Checking the NASFAA website it says they have about 20,000 financial assistance professionals in their membership. This is close to the 16,000 wolves in the lower 48 but who can get an accurate count anyway.

In my next installment I’ll give you some more interesting “wolf facts”.  If you haven’t registered for the conference yet, you still have time!  If you want to present, be sure to complete a “Proposal Submission” that can be found on the front page of the SWASFAA website.

We look forward to seeing you in Grapevine!

The SWASFAA Fall Conference Committee

Three Institutional Factors Impacting Student Attrition

Submitted by Memory Keller of Student Connections

In addition to the primary research we conduct, such as through our work with students and academic experts on our Advisory Boards, Student Connections regularly reviews findings from around the industry. Recently, we examined factors impacting student retention at colleges and universities in the United States.

Financial aid and resources available
It’s no surprise that students most commonly abandon their pursuit of higher education because of money.  In fact, ACT identifies the amount of financial aid available to students as the number one factor contributing to student attrition rates for all types of colleges and universities. (Wesley R. Habley and Randy McClanahan, “What Works in Student Retention?” ACT, 2004, p. 10). Financial aid services is also listed among the top factors.  Further, Ruffalo Noel Levitz reports that the high cost of schooling, an obligation to obtain full-time employment because of financial need, personal emergencies and uncertainty about the return on investment from a college education all contribute to student attrition (“2016 National Report:  Freshman Motivations to Complete College,” Ruffalo Noel Levitz, 2016, p. 4).

Choosing the right school and program
In addition to finances, uninformed decisions regarding which institution to attend and a poor understanding of the matriculation process appear to be major factors in student attrition.  The Institute for Higher Education Policy reports that choosing which institution to attend is a complicated and confusing process, especially for first-generation and non-traditional students (Tiffane Cochran and Ann Coles, “Maximizing the College Choice Process to Increase Fit & Match for Underserved Students,” Institute For Higher Education Policy, 2011, p. 3). These students often do not have the background or access to tools that will help them fully consider the different pathways to the achievement of their educational goals. Once they do select an institution, they are often challenged by admission and financial aid processes.  These factors often lead to students not selecting the institution that would best meet their individual needs and subsequently dropping out before they achieve their educational goals.

Lack of involvement and engagement
The third institutional factor impacting student attrition is lack of student involvement in campus life.  According to the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), the more involved students are with their institutions, the more invested they are in their education.  NSSE also has identified a correlation between student involvement and higher grades and completion rates.  It makes sense that feelings of safety and belonging can go a long way toward keeping students engaged and working toward their educational goals.

The good news in these variables lies in what they share in common: They are under institutional influence. There are steps you can take today at your school to improve student engagement, understanding of enrollment requirements and campus culture, and financial literacy. In fact, the more you consider these seemingly disparate areas, the more apparent it becomes that they are integrated aspects of one unifying goal: student success. You may find you have little control over one area. However, by seizing opportunities to make a positive difference in others, you can shape the common outcome they produce.

Low-Income Students Can Miss Out on Opportunities

When perception equals reality, low-income students can miss out on opportunities
By Memory Keeler – Student Connections, a USA Funds company

Over the past few months, I’ve been speaking with many colleagues about the nonacademic barriers to student success, and I often reference the 2016 FAFSA completion data. Of particular interest is the fact that the national FAFSA completion rate for high school seniors fell from 40.9 percent to 39.6 percent and that only five states – Oregon, West Virginia, Utah, North Carolina and Texas saw an increase in completion.

Low-income students’ misconceptions about financial aid
In October 2016, the National College Access Network (NCAN) released a report that examined the mindset of low-income students about their financial aid eligibility. It identifies some of the reasons that rate may be low, particularly for this population of students. The report begins by noting a 2011-12 National Postsecondary Student Aid Survey. The survey asked students to indicate why they hadn’t applied for aid, and 44.7 percent said it was because they did not believe they were eligible. But what is this belief based on?

The report goes on to explore current attitudes and behaviors toward financial aid among low-income students. It concludes that the belief that they are ineligible for aid often masks a troubling reality: they do not know whether or not they are eligible. These students are less likely to pursue aid opportunities. Because these findings have major implications for students and schools, they should help schools shape outreach strategies.

Getting resources to the students who need them
This is confirmed elsewhere in the study, where data show that, despite an abundance of information about student aid, the knowledge is not reaching the students who most need it. For example, 64 percent of the students who did not apply for aid reported they had no information about aid or had mistaken notions about it (for example, believing food stamps were a type of financial aid). Think about that: More than half of those who don’t apply for aid don’t understand what it is. Whether or not they are eligible becomes unfortunately irrelevant until we address that knowledge gap.

Further findings in the report identified a stark contrast in awareness of important issues between students who apply for aid and those who don’t. For example, 55 percent of students who didn’t apply believed that grants must be repaid, while only 12 percent of those who did apply held that belief. 32 percent of students who didn’t apply believed government loans were the same as private loans, whereas only 13 percent of students who applied believed that.

But what I found most telling among these statistics relates to this statement: “There are plenty of people I can ask about financial aid at my school.” 73 percent of students who applied for aid agreed with it, compared to only 34 percent of those who did not pursue aid. This is a staggering split between the two groups, and it underscores the importance of institutions raising awareness about financial literacy and other student engagement resources.

Although the sample size was small, this study does shed some light on why students may feel they are not eligible and do not apply. Particularly with the low national completion rate for all students, we need to focus more on getting the message out to those who need it. Students feel overwhelmed about the process to the point they are not connecting with the information that is out there. Institutions can address this with thoughtful engagement with students throughout the matriculation process and through college completion.