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Profiles in the Financial Aid Profession: Melet Leafgreen, Texas Christian University

June 25, 2010

Too bad they don’t write operas about financial aid administrators. If they did, Melet Leafgreen could combine the two things she does best into one. Melet is the Assistant Director of Loan Programs at Texas Christian University. When she received her bachelor’s degree in vocal music performance from Southwestern Oklahoma State University, it certainly was not intended to get her an administrator position in a financial aid office. However, she sings every week with the Texas Wesleyan Chorale, which allows her the opportunity to stay close to her first love: singing. She actually sang the answers for this interview.    

Melet Leafgreen, Texas Christian University

 Melet: I’m proud of our office’s ability to stay grounded, even in the busiest and most stressful times–to laugh at ourselves and find joy in the students. Nobody is 100% all of the time, but overall we have a great attitude. 

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

Melet: It’s really hard to pick one over all the others. In fact, that IS the biggest challenge, in a nutshell: having too many new things to implement all at once. In our particular office structure, we have just three or four folks who are responsible for figuring out what procedural and processing changes are needed to get us compliant with new regulations, and we have been absolutely swamped. When that “lead” group gets under water working out the mechanics, our training time and communication with the rest of the staff suffers, which only compounds the problem since it is those people who are on the front lines with students and families. In short, things have just come at us so fast these past 12-18 months, and it’s been challenging to keep up.    

Don: Are there any primary or coming trends that you see in the financial aid office?    

Melet: Financial aid officers are going to become loan counselors to a much greater extent than ever before. Inevitably, some of the valuable financial aid awareness, default aversion, and financial literacy services we have taken for granted from our FFEL partners are not going to continue to be free. And in yet another “perfect storm” scenario for our industry, the time when we may need additional funding to pay for these services is the same time college budgets are shrinking. We are going to have to be incredibly creative and also extremely intentional about sustaining the relationships that have brought us all success in the past. Collaboration will be harder, but it’s never been more important.    

Don: Do you have any tips for schools that are transitioning to Direct Lending (or what has been most helpful as you make the transition)?     

Melet: The transition has been easier than we dreaded and harder in some ways that we didn’t anticipate. We have relied heavily on the very active and vibrant listserv community for our financial aid management system (PeopleSoft/Oracle). Our colleagues that have been processing DL for many years have been, by far, our most helpful source of information. The hardest thing for us has been un-training ourselves about federal loans as we knew them. FFEL is so ingrained; it’s really a challenge to change that flow, that mindset, that language. At least once a day, I still say something like, “We should get the guarantee file back tomorrow,” “Make sure he guarantees his loan online,” or “The EFT should be here in 2-3 business days,” even though those things are no longer part of our federal loan processes. And I interact with the new processes all day, every day. It’s tough on my staff to un-learn things that have been drilled into them for years, things they have said on the phone thousands of times. We’ll get there. The only tip I can offer is throw yourself on the mercy of your colleagues; the knowledge is out there in the community. You just have to ask.     

Don: Tell me about your experiences before your current employment.    

Melet: From the time I was sixteen until I left for college, and during the summers when I returned home (Lubbock, TX), I worked at one of those multiplex movie theaters (12 screens). Once I got past the very bottom rung on the ladder (which was cleaning out trash cans and scraping gum off various surfaces), I loved selling concessions and tickets. I always really wanted to run the projectors, but I didn’t meet the 5’ 2” height requirement and still don’t.    

Don: Where do you think schools should focus their efforts with regard to default prevention strategies given the industry’s move to a 3-year CDR model?    

Melet: Tough question.   

Don: I’m known for my tough questioning skills. Please continue.    

Melet: (Rolls eyes) We have a low default rate right now, and we don’t have a very formal default management plan. This is one of the areas that truly frightens me in a post-FFEL world. Schools like mine have counted on our guarantor, lender, and servicer partners to do most of this work for us. In the DL world, we are grateful to still have some of the servicing relationships from our FFEL experience, but even those will evolve. It means we (schools) have to step up our game in a big way, but I will admit I don’t know exactly how my institution will do that with no more staff and no more hours in the day than we have now.    

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

Melet: In first grade, I wanted to be a nurse. This is particularly hysterical considering that the sight of blood (even in a cartoon) makes me black out instantly. I have actually gotten light-headed even reading a particularly vivid description of wounds. Thankfully, I moved on from there to combination singer and ballet dancer.     

Don: What do you like most about your job?    

Melet: Three things: (1) That I still find it exciting and challenging after 10 years. I wasn’t sure there was anything that was dynamic enough to hold my attention that long. (2) College students continue to fascinate me. Full of tremendous potential and yet so completely vulnerable. I have been able to see a few classes through to graduation, and now they are having kids and progressing in their careers, making positive contributions. (3) My favorite thing has to be the people and relationships I have made in this community. I can’t say enough about the level of passion and integrity of the people who have crossed my path in the last 10 years. And the colleagues I have been privileged to work with at TCU are some of the finest people I know. I take so much pride in doing my job well, and that is something I absolutely learned from the individuals who walk into my office each day. I am incredibly fortunate.    

Don: What is your favorite book, movie, TV show, food?    

Melet: My favorite book is one I first read as a senior in high school, The Grapes of Wrath. I read constantly and have encountered some other fantastic books, but nothing better than that. I won’t be able to name all my favorite movies; my husband and I are movie fanatics–we own about 400 DVDs. My favorite TV shows are The Office and NCIS. I do not watch reality TV; I have never seen one of those shows. My favorite food is French fries.    

Don: Name one thing that many people do not know about you.    

Melet: I originally moved to Fort Worth to attend Brite Divinity School at TCU. My dad was a pastor and that’s where I was headed. Soon after I arrived on campus, I took a student job in the financial aid office, and I caught the FA bug. Whenever I was in class, I found myself wishing I was in the office, helping students. When a full-time position came open in the FAO, I took it and dropped out of seminary within the year. I clearly found my calling at TCU, just not where I anticipated.    

Don Buehrer, Southwest Regional Director (TX)

 

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

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Debbie Leafgreen permalink
    July 6, 2010 9:10 am

    Even tho I may be prejudiced because I am Melet’s mother-in-law, I know the passion and love she has for her job and the people she works with and serves. I think she is a tremendous asset to TCU and am blessed to have her in my life.
    Debbie Leafgreen

    • July 6, 2010 1:24 pm

      I love that you wrote this about Melet. I know that Don Buehrer thinks the world of her too. Incidentally, my mom follows this blog and I love that I can always count on her to be a “fan”. Hope you had a great 4th of July!

      Jim

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