Profiles in the Financial Aid Profession: Phyllis Ocheltree, Lone Star College – Montgomery
Lou Murray: How long have you been in financial aid?
Phyllis Ocheltree: Too long! I have been in financial aid 33 years. I started out as a work-study student at the University of Houston and spent my early years there. From 1990 to 1994, I worked at Houston Community College. I’ve been employed by Lone Star College (LSC) – North Harris since 1994. This year I started a new position as the Director of Financial Aid at LSC – Montgomery.
Lou: What is your current job focus?
Phyllis: My focus is to promote awareness of financial aid to students, the community, and the staff on campus. The goal of my office is to help students achieve their educational potential by providing appropriate financial resources.
Lou: What makes your campus unique?
Phyllis: Our location is unique. We are part of the Lone Star College System, which is comprised of five campuses plus several satellite campuses. My campus, LSC – Montgomery, is located in between Conroe and The Woodlands, Texas, with a new center opening January 2011 in Conroe. The trees on our campus contribute to a beautiful environment in which to study and work. Our class sizes provide a terrific student-to-professor ratio. Enrollment is up, in large part due to the increasing costs of universities, the economy, and more people in the workforce coming back to school.
Lou: What has been your biggest work related challenge during the past 12 months?
Phyllis: There have been a large number of changes. For one, I’m new to this campus and to the position of Director, so that, in itself, has been my biggest challenge. New FA programs, industry changes, Direct Lending (DL), our PeopleSoft conversion, SAP, appeals…I can go on and on. But changes and challenges are for the good, right?
Lou: Are there any primary or coming trends that you see in the financial aid office?
Phyllis: Students want more now…actually, yesterday. We can never seem to be fast enough for the instant demands students have now. I see less planning ahead on the part of the family. They want things immediately. E-mails, texting, and other electronic means have created a less patient and understanding student body.
Lou: Where do you think schools should focus their efforts regarding default prevention strategies given the industry’s move to a 3-year CDR model?
Phyllis: Financial wellness and early awareness are important. Our campuses work with our high school partners and other community groups to promote education and financial awareness. It’s important that families are provided with updated information regarding all the changes that take place. We, as an institution, have to help the students with the shock of the DL changes. “No FFELP? My loan isn’t with the bank or credit union down the street?” We have to walk them through this change.
Lou: What do you like most about our job?
Phyllis: Helping students meet their educational goals.
Lou: Talk about your office and the folks with whom you work.
Phyllis: I am grateful that I report to someone that has really tried to make me feel comfortable with my transition. The staff has been through a lot of changes and has respectfully welcomed me. Because I’ve been with the System for so long, I’m not exactly “new.”
Lou: Who has been your mentor?
Phyllis: There are a number of folks I could name, but two immediately come to mind: Rob Sheridan, currently at the University of Houston – Downtown, and Ramiro Fonseca, currently with Houston Community College. Ramiro is so good at working with others. Rob’s experience and contribution to this industry has been so valuable.
Lou: What is your favorite movie?
Phyllis: Beaches. I cry every time.
Lou: Name one thing most people don’t know about you.
Phyllis: I like to go four-wheeling! My four-wheeler’s name is “Johnny 5-Alive.” Together, we are tough!