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!
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.
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forgetting to list one of their third-party servicers, not reporting changes in ownership or control, and missing or outdated educational program information.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.