Compliance workshop a great success!

Earlier this month, ILASFAA offered a workshop related to all things compliance for the first time. Financial aid folk from throughout Illinois gathered at Millikin University in Decatur to learn from an FSA insider. For those in the state who have not visited Millikin, you’ve missed a little gem in Central Illinois!

Millikin University

Our presenter, Lisa Hoskins, began her career in financial aid as a staff member at a college herself before finally spending several years working as a program reviewer in the Department of Education’s Region 7 office (as a reminder, Illinois is part of Region 5). It’s always nice to be reminded that there are ED staff who are advocates for financial aid officers to ensure we do our jobs well. The day began with a detailed presentation about the Department of Ed in general, in order to help financial aid administrators navigate the Department and understand what each unit is responsible for, as well as covering elements related to school eligibility. Because campuses have many different interactions with students, you may be visited by one of many different groups within the Department of ED.

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Related to program reviews, the review will generally cover the current year and the one prior, though if there is a systemic issue identified the team may choose to look back further. Unless the review is an unannounced review, schools will typically receive a minimum of two weeks’ notice that their institution has been selected. Some of the most common eligibility issues Lisa encountered include schools forgetting to list one of their third-party servicers, not reporting changes in ownership or control, and missing or outdated educational program information. Also interesting to learn was that student complaints to regional offices play an important part in compliance, as procedures are often put in place to deal with issues related to the Department in these complaints.

Some other important takeaways include:

– You must be able to document how you determined the costs included in your COA. You should have on hand annual figures and make notes as to why you made or did not make changes; these notes don’t have to be incredibly in-depth but should be current.
– You should know where applications for admissions go. Are they archived electronically, are they held by paper in the admissions office, are they located in the cloud?
– If your President can only attend one meeting between the entrance and exit conferences during a program review, it’s most important for she or he—or a high-level representative—to attend the exit conference.
– If you receive a long and detailed program review report, schools should immediately ask for an extension in the event it may take more than 30 days to respond to.
– An easily-overlooked finding occurs when schools forget to send notices to newly enrolled students (for instance, drug & alcohol prevention information). This may require that notification is sent multiple times during the year to reach new students.

The compliance workshop is new to ILASFAA, and as far as this attendee was concerned adds a lot of value to ILASFAA membership. Millikin was a great host! Many thanks to Buddy Mayfield, Southern Regional Coordinator, for planning and executing the event. Hopefully this professional development opportunity will continue in the years to come.

Compliance workshop

Reality Store 2014 recap!

In November, just before Thanksgiving, financial aid administrators throughout the state of Illinois gathered at Kershaw Elementary School in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood for our annual Reality Store. 74 students, grades 6-8, took part in the reality store; while it was a small group, it was certainly a lively bunch!

The day started off with Past President Mary Shaw introducing the concept of the reality store to the students at a short assembly, after which the sixth graders started their journey through a month in the life of an adult! Students worked with Lorie (Governor’s State), Kelsey (University of St. Francis), Laura C. (St. Xavier University), Marchello (UIC) and Aesha (Illinois Institute of Technology) to draw their family size (single/married, no kids/number of kids) and occupation/salary at random.

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Next, each student moved on to the various stations to complete tasks such as talking with Jaime & Jessica (Concordia University) to determine their grocery expenditures; deciding whether they would be frugal, moderate or extravagant about clothing budget with Erika (St. Francis); and getting help from Laura N. (University of Chicago) and Betsy (Illinois State) to choose their housing type. A visit to Jennifer & Adrian (College of DuPage) at the Wheel of Fortune drove home the effect that chance might have on your expenses—did you earn $100 at your garage sale, or do you have a $200 deductible to pay from a car accident?

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At the check-out table, Lyn (Illinois State) and Candace (Danville Area Community College) reviewed the activity with each student before they could get their goodie bag. Students who had a surplus at the end of the month might be encouraged to start a retirement account, increase their loan payment, or open an emergency fund. If a student was in the red at the end of the month, they had to make some adjustment to their choices (maybe instead of a high-end sports car, a mid-range compact would fit their budget!)

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One of the students happened to select Associate Director of Financial Aid as her occupation. She seemed a bit skeptical at first, but by the time she checked out, she was excited to share her outcome–$125 left over for the month! When asked if she had considered what sort of career she wanted to pursue, her answer was, “I want to do this. Really—do you all have a card or something?” Keep your eyes open—someone out there may have this young lady as an eager applicant seeking a job as a financial aid counselor in ten years or so!


At the close of the afternoon, we all gathered in the auditorium for a short wrap-up assembly. Mary led the students in a short discussion to determine what they might have taken away from the reality store program. Many of the students indicated that it opened their eyes to the challenges their parents face, and the importance of continuing on through college in order to have a secure and successful future.

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All in all, it was a great afternoon with a group of bright, enthusiastic young people. As chair of the Diversity committee, I want to thank every volunteer who took the time out of their busy schedule to spend the day in Chicago; without you, we could never have pulled this off! Special thanks also to Erika Guzman for recruiting volunteers; Sylvia Ponce de Leon and Lorie Webster for soliciting items to give out to the students; and Michelle Wortel for designing the t-shirt each student received. Lastly, thanks to each member of the Diversity committee—your commitment and passion helped make this event a success.

In congruence with committee’s mission, we had a broad array of folks representing various institutional types, career levels, and communities throughout the state. The Reality Store, at a glance:

– Educational institutions represented: 20
– Out-of-state institution represented: 1
– Lender/servicer representatives: 3
– Proprietary institutions: 1
– Public, 4-year: 7
– Public, 2-year: 4
– Private: 8

We even had about 10 volunteers who were new to the Reality Store this year–in fact, one of the newbies decided to take a turn in the reality store herself:


All in all, it was a great day. Here’s to next year!

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Macomb workshop–homeless youth follow-up

Last week at the fall workshop, we had a couple of situations presented during the Q&A that we wanted confirmation on. Luckily, Cyekeia Lee, Director of Higher Education Initiatives at NAEHCY, came to the rescue.

Question 1: If a student was determined UHY due to a determination from the homeless shelter director or school liaison when they entered university, is the college then required to complete an interview each subsequent year of enrollment or is the documentation received from the official upon matriculation their first year sufficient for all other years?

The documentation from a school district is only valid for one academic year, so the school districts determination will not matriculate, and the school district cannot make a determination for a subsequent year. Thereafter if a student cannot get a determination of their unaccompanied homeless youth status from any of the other verifiers (if they have not stayed or received services from a HUD or RHYA funded shelter) the Financial Aid Administrator must make a determination of the students unaccompanied homeless youth status. Here is the corresponding excerpt from Chapter 5 of the 2014-15 AVG.
“a. If a student does not have, and cannot get, documentation from any of the authorities given on page 28, you must deter¬mine if she is an unaccompanied youth who is homeless or is self-supporting and at risk of being homeless.”

Question 2: Some counselors have received documentation from a high school that was questionable, and the college is hesitant to believe that the high school documentation absolves them of having to probe further. In one example, an FAA stated the student had a fight with their parents and spent one night in their car (the student confirmed with the FA counselor that it was a single night). However, this student had documentation from their school that they were UHY. It’s our understanding that the school must accept the documentation from the HS/homeless liaison, but the concern was that there would be blowback on the college’s part—-is that a valid concern?

According to the AVG verification of a students unaccompanied homeless youth status is not required by a college or university. Excerpt from AVG:

“Verification not required: You are not required to verify the answers to the homeless youth questions unless you have conflicting information. A documented phone call with, or a written statement from, one of the relevant authorities is sufficient verification when needed. It is not conflicting information if you disagree with an authority’s determination that a student is homeless.
If you believe the authority is incorrect or abusing the process, accept his determination but contact the following oversight party, as relevant, to evaluate the authority’s determinations: School district homeless liaison: contact the coordinator of education for homeless children and youth programs of the state’s educational agency. A list of state coordinators can be found at: state_resources.php.”

If a student was homeless on or any time after July 1, of the previous year and the McKinney-Vento Liaison can make a determination of the students McKinney-Vento eligibility status. Often students may have stable housing, then be back on the streets so you don’t want to have students making 10 FAFSA changes. The status can be reviewed each year. However if the FAA’s thinks that the Liaison is abusing the decision they can contact the State Coordinator for Illinois.

Thank you all for your attendance and great questions! Once again, ILASFAA members have demonstrated their care and passion towards working with and provide the best service to students, and your work is appreciated!