I know I’m not the only one who gets excited about the annual Federal Student Aid Conference (FSA). It’s such a great opportunity to connect with financial aid peers, learn new things, and have a bit of fun. A free training event hosted by The Department of Education, approximately 6,000 financial aid professionals are expected to attend FSA 2016.
With so many option on what sessions to attend, it can be overwhelming to try and figure out which sessions to go to. I remember the first FSA I attended. It was more than a little overwhelming. I’d never imagined there would be so many choices and so many people. Honestly, I went into it with no plan. That’s not to say I didn’t attend sessions. I did. I spent all day in sessions, in fact. However, I found myself regretting my session choices and wishing I had gone to different ones. I’m returning to FSA this year, in a very different role, and my approach has matured. This year, I’ve tried to determine the sessions that will be of greatest impact to the financial aid community. I’ve set aside time to attend the sessions where I feel can really learn the most about what schools are struggling with, and identify ways to help.
What Sessions Should You Attend?
This year’s conference runs Tuesday, Nov. 29 to Friday, Dec. 2 in Atlanta, Georgia. More than 60 sessions will be offered across those two and a half days. Choosing which sessions to attend can feel a bit overwhelming. Here are the sessions that are on my radar, separated into General and Breakout.
If you only attend three sessions while you’re in Atlanta, all three of the General Sessions should be on your list. I’ll be attending the two noted below.
Welcome and Federal Update (GS1): The Federal Update is a key session to attend during an election year. Here you’ll be able to access insight from Washington insiders. We all knew there would be uncertainty in the financial aid industry with a new candidate taking office. That uncertainty has been heightened considering President-Elect Trump has promised sweeping changes to both the Department and educational funding, with no defined plan. This session provides opportunity for the Department to tell us what has been happening in Washington and what they think will take place in the coming year.
Verification and 2017-18 Conflicting Information, Identification, and Resolution (GS2): Verification will be more of the same in this session, however the conversation about 17-18 and cross-year conflicting information may prove interesting. With the move to Prior-Prior Year (PPY), schools have been exposed to increased cases where there may be conflicting information across aid years. Many are struggling to upgrade systems and implement a new aid year three months early. Many more are trying to grasp what needs to be done for students flagged with a C Code 399. This session should prove to be insightful for schools, and entertaining to all.
At last check, there were upwards of 50 Breakout Sessions. I’ll be attending the two noted below.
Borrower Defense to Repayment Final Regulations (16): The new borrower defense to repayment final rules is 164 pages of regulations. The impact of these regulations is still widely unknown, but the regulations will:
• Redefine school misrepresentation
• Add disclosure requirements
• Create new standards and a process to determine if a student’s loans can be discharged
• Prohibit the use of certain contract provisions.
This session will hopefully provide insight to the new regulations, making it easier for Financial Aid Offices to decide what, if anything, needs to be implemented by the July 1, 2017 effective date.
Open Forum (31): Anyone who has been to an Open Forum in the past knows why this one made the list. These town hall sessions provide the opportunity to learn about what other schools are truly facing. Chances are if one school is struggling with an issue, others are too. An Open Forum is a time to listen to questions other schools pose to the Department. It’s a session that highlights the many voices of schools nationwide. It’s a session where schools raise questions and concerns and discuss them face-to-face with the Department. There’s also the distinct possibility you’ll catch first-hand a heated discussion where two professionals try to prove they know more than the other.
In fiscal year 2015, FSA delivered more than $128 billion in aid to almost 12 million students at more than 6,100 schools. FSA also manages a loan portfolio in excess of $1.2 trillion representing more than 193 million student loans to approximately 42 million borrowers. With such a big responsibility, it’s easy to see that FSA’s training conference will offer a wealth of resources. For the financial aid community, it’s a must-attend. For CampusLogic, it’s also a must-attend. Our financial aid student engagement platform is built ‘by financial aid, for financial aid.’ FSA, the sessions, networking, people, and energy, are what drive our innovation.