All new university presidents are required to attend the Department of Education’s (ED) Fundamentals of Federal Student Aid (FSA) Administration course. It is comprised of a mandatory online pre-requisite course, followed by a five-day, in-person class conducted onsite at an ED location. These sessions are conducted regularly in various regions nationwide; and I completed my training last month in Seattle. The online component was rigorous, informative, and required a pass rate of 80% to ensure eligibility for the in-person segment. This portion was equally instructive and included sessions exclusively for presidents and CEOs, alongside the regular training provided to directors of financial aid.
Each area of study discussed during the week included concept reviews, checkpoint activities or application exercises, a perspective on required ED policies and procedures, information addressing ED’s top-ten FSA audit or program review findings (if any were of relevance) and, lastly, references and resources for future review and study. The resources, instructors, manuals, online and on-ground experience were educational regarding the requirements for meeting ED expectations for FSA administration and compliance, and while I was a bit hesitant regarding the time commitment, it was an invaluable learning experience for this new president.
Areas discussed were primarily limited to the federal Pell Grant Program, federal direct loans, and a select few other Title IV programs. The online and on-ground class introduced us to a myriad of websites related to FSA implementation on a university campus as well as supporting online resources for leaders and institutions implementing FSA. We were also oriented to the lexicon of relevant FSA administration acronyms, including the following:
- Information for Financial Aid Professionals (IFAP)
- Central Processing System (CPS)
- Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
- Institutional Student Information Records (ISIRs)
- FAA Access to CPS Online
- Common Origination and Disbursement G5 System (COG and G5): where a business office goes to draw down funds to pay eligible students
- National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS)
- Integrated Partner Management (IPM): an ED project to integrate and streamline core business and support processes (availability TBA).
While for some participants the program was a primer, for me it was a reminder of the fiduciary commitment we as institutions make to serving students in administering federal financial aid. It also struck a chord for me in understanding the millions of dollars in financial aid ED annually provides to students and the trillions of dollars in debt owed to the federal government by students who have completed their education. A key part of our responsibility is the importance of educating both students and parents about the debt they are incurring at the beginning and/or prior to receiving funding, as well as upon graduation as students begin to plan to repay their loans. This education of students as both consumers and citizens is critical to their successfully meeting their debt obligations and therefore also to the education we provide to them.
While I was a bit anxious at the outset, the insights and dialogue shared with both instructors and fellow participants, the exercises and reading we did were invaluable in helping me to better understand the essential work of university staff in administering financial aid responsibly and compliantly at APUS. I want to thank the Department of Education for providing this learning opportunity and also extend a special thanks to the trainers and colleagues with whom I had the opportunity to collaborate in the program.