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What the Future Might Hold for Financial Aid

Chicago — No one would have been able to predict back in 2002 the changes and challenges financial-aid professionals have faced in the last decade, David Mohning said at the start of a panel discussion he moderated here on Monday at the annual meeting of the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.

But that didn’t stop Mr. Mohning, executive director of financial aid and assistant professor at Vanderbilt University, and four other longtime aid administrators from making some predictions about what the next 10 years might hold for their profession.

Thomas Babel, vice president for regulatory affairs at DeVry Inc., predicted that financial aid would move from a school-based system to a student-based one, in which students would receive grants and loans for units they accumulated in a variety of settings. If higher education’s delivery model changes, he said, and students turn to providers who help them piece together a program from multiple institutions, those providers will also be the source of student services like financial counseling.

William Spiers, director of financial aid at Tallahassee Community College, expects more attention will be paid to students’ academic preparation. “Providing underprepared students with loans is a tragedy,” he said, one he expects to see addressed.

The panelists largely agreed on many points. The student-aid system we have today doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The accountability push is here to stay. Regulation will increase. Loans will continue to play a major role in how families finance a college education.

There was less agreement, however, about what all of that will mean for the next generation of financial-aid directors. Joe Paul Case, dean of financial aid at Amherst College, was pessimistic. “Aid administrators will be increasingly marginalized,” he said. Policies will be shaped by enrollment managers, he said, while “we’ll be viewed as technicians.”

Richard Shipman, director of financial aid at Michigan State University, offered a possible way for aid administrators to avoid such marginalization: Insist on a professional certification for what they do. Of course, he added, that wouldn’t affect him or the others on the panel. “We’re all old enough to know we wouldn’t have to be certified,” Mr. Shipman said. “We’d be grandfathered in, literally.”

Mr. Spiers had a different take. Aid administrators won’t be sidelined in the next decade, he said. “We’re going to be in the spotlight.”

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