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Profiles in the Financial Aid Profession: Ozark Christian College, Joplin, Missouri

May 18, 2010
Thank you to Ozark Christian College for sharing some of their best practices.  Pam King interviewed their Director of Financial Aid , Kim Balentine.  (Pam, I do find Kim’s answer to your “mentor” question highly suspect.) – Jim

Kim Balentine, Becky Morrow, Penny Etcheson - Ozark Christian College

 

Pam: What are you most proud of with your financial aid office?  

Kim: Students enjoy coming into the office.  We offer them good customer service which makes them feel comfortable coming in and asking questions.  Some students need assistance with things that are not related to financial aid and they come to us first for help.  

Pam: What has been the biggest challenge for your office over the past 12 months?  

Kim: Communicating changes to students regarding the FFEL to DL transition as well as year-round Pell.  Also in communicating where the borrower’s loans are when they graduate.  Just getting them to understand the changes and do what they need to do has been a struggle.  Financial aid processes have also become more manual and much more labor intensive over the past 12 months.  

Pam: Do you have any tips for schools that are transitioning to Direct Lending?  

Kim: We are very glad we did a test group; it allowed us to work out the various issues that arose.  Just getting used to the new world where you have to originate the loans has been an adjustment.  You have to change your way of thinking.  We don’t release funds until the MPN is done, whereas in the FFEL world we could just certify the loan in the summer and forget about it until the funds came in.  

Schools shouldn’t be afraid to call FSA because they have been very helpful.  We also attended a bunch of DE webinars and they provided a lot of great information.  Two things we would recommend is that you stay on top of your monthly reconciliations.  You just have to get them done as soon as they come in, no matter what.  Also, we’ve had to develop separate processes to collect the parent borrower’s permission for the credit check to be performed.  That was something we never worried about before, so we’ve had to stay on top of that situation as well.  

Pam: Who within the financial aid community has been your mentor?  

Kim: Honestly, Pam, you were my mentor.  When I started in November of 1999 I was completely new to financial aid, and you–when you worked for the state guarantor–came in and trained me extensively.  I remember all of the hours that you spent with me in my office, helping me get the right processes in place.  I always called you with questions, and I still do.  You have always been a wonderful resource for me! (Interviewer’s note:  I did not influence this answer in any way and nothing of value changed hands. It was a surprise to me and a very humbling compliment.)  

Pam: When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?  

Kim: I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up.  When I was a young girl, it was just me and my grandparents on a farm, so I spent a lot of time using my imagination.  My grandma had a large chalkboard on the wall in her garage that I taught “the kids” on.  My grandma’s 1973 Impala was my desk because it was always parked by the chalkboard.  I even had a pointer to point at the chalkboard, and I would let them out for recess in the yard.  After “school” I would drive them home on the lawn mower.  There is still a sheet of paper hanging in that garage with the names of the kids that were in trouble.  I still have the books that I used to teach “my kids” with.   

Pam: What do you like most about your job?  

Kim: WEEKENDS! No, seriously, my favorite part is helping those students understand the complex world of financial aid.  Just being there for the students, it’s why we do what we do.  

Pam King, Midwest Regional Director (Missouri, Wisconsin, Iowa, and West Virginia)

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