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Profiles in the Financial Aid Profession: Eric Nemoto, Chaminade University, Honolulu

August 2, 2010

 

Eric Nemoto is the Associate Dean of Enrollment Management & Director of Financial Aid at Chaminade University of Honolulu

 

Eric has been with the school since 1994 and has been part of the school’s resurgence in terms of enrollment, facilities, and overall reputation. He is an alumnus of both the University of Hawaii at Manoa and Oregon State University, where he obtained his undergraduate (B.A., Political Science) and graduate (Ed.M., College Student Services Administration) education, respectively.

Chaminade is a four-year private university that offers academic programs for undergraduate day students, evening students, and graduate students. Its total annual enrollment is approximately 3,700, with 1,100 students reflected in its traditional day program, the most popular programs of which include forensic science, criminal justice, business, pre-med, education, biology, and interior design. A new nursing program was recently launched for the 2010-2011 academic year.

Alan Ishida: Has the current economic crisis placed additional pressure on you or your staff?

Eric Nemoto: Definitely. With a private school like ours, the level of our enrollment means everything. So important is this that in the week after our new class arrives on campus and begins the fall semester, we have already started gauging how we’re doing for the following academic year. So there is always the constant pressure to either maintain or increase our enrollment, for everything we do at Chaminade is dependent on it. If our enrollment is growing, the school’s operational budget is sufficient to cover the numerous expenses we incur, donors are more apt to contribute to a successful institution, and there exists the potential to improve our operations because we can now afford more resources, persons or otherwise. But if our enrollment is declining, we are faced with just the opposite. We experience budget shortfalls, [fewer] private contributions, and instead of expanding, we are thinking of cutting back. So when the economy is bad, it makes our usual pressurized environment doubly so.

With people out of work, making less, and fearful of what the future brings, inevitably, it concerns us as to how the economic climate will impact students’ decisions to attend Chaminade. So during these last couple of years we’ve had to work even harder to get our awards out sooner, go the extra mile on service, and try to manage our institutional aid even more strategically so as to recruit the maximum number of students while assuring that we receive a sufficient amount of net revenue.

It’s been tough, no doubt, but however we’ve done it, we’ve weathered the toughest part of the economic storm to date, and our ship is sailing well, for Chaminade has not had to lay anyone off or cut back on staff hours or pay.  We actually had a decent enrollment year in 2009-2010, and, at this writing, we are looking at a record class coming in the fall.

Alan: Is there a bright side to the recession? For instance, are students using scholarships more? Where does most of the financial aid come from, and is all of the money awarded every year?

Eric: Tough question. On a general level, if there’s any such thing as a “bright side” to an economic downturn, it may be that everyone gets to realizing how truly connected–and therefore potentially fragile–our “world” economy really is. And because of this, maybe the silver lining is that we realize that we shouldn’t splurge too much, for example, not to go into debt unreasonably so on account of our beliefs that the good times we are experiencing will never end. For it is the over extending of our means that usually comes back to haunt us and society in general.

In other words, maybe a recession’s purpose is to really teach us a lesson: manage your money wisely, in the good times and the bad. As far as students are concerned, yes, I think it could be said there may be opportunities for more scholarships with private universities such as ours. Sure, private schools cost more than public institutions, but because we are primarily dependent on our tuition revenue, private schools may also be more willing to increase the level of their scholarships in order to recruit students during especially difficult financial times.

It has been during the recent recession that we at Chaminade have purposely increased our institutional gift aid in an attempt to address the needs of many families who have been hit hard by the bad economy, and I think it has worked very well. We are looking at a sizeable class enrolling in the fall because we took it upon ourselves to increase our aid in recognition of the economic uncertainty out there. Our students are benefitted by the increased aid and so too is the institution with the increased numbers of students.

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

Eric: No financial aid office has enough staff, pays sufficiently, has enough IT support, and provides for adequate professional development opportunities (which is the first budget item to get slashed in a recession), so in this regard we’re no different than any other operation.

But having said that, I guess I’m proud of the fact that with all of these constant challenges, I’ve had an operation that’s weathered through all sorts of adversities, and when it was all said and done, we’ve been part of the historic comeback of a very fine institution that, back when I first started, was on the verge of closing.

The success of Chaminade was due to a number of factors, such as great leadership (our late president, Dr. Sue Wesselkamper, and our current president, Bro. Bernie Ploeger); a campus master plan; good fiscal management, particularly during austere times; an aggressive recruiting campaign, and increased outside contributions. But in conjunction with all this, financial aid has certainly done its share. In the time that I’ve been here we’ve actually quadrupled our work output without correspondingly increasing our staff (I gained maybe two positions only to restructure the office and give up one of them), and still managed to get all of our work done in a reasonably efficient manner without landing any of us in the insane asylum.

We’ve gone from being mostly paper to all electronic, lived by the FFELP but now will manage the Direct Loan Program, and I’ve done so with staff I recruit who are new to the field, and who then give us anywhere from two to five years before eventually moving on to other aid positions at schools that can pay them more (can’t argue over that, more power to them). All-in-all, I can’t complain. I think our operation has continued to improve and has been a very integral part of Chaminade’s success.

Alan: What do you like least about your profession?

Eric: No question. I dislike having to deal with overbearing, belligerent students and parents, for that matter. I have a button with the words, “Students First!” It is a memento from the late Sue Wesselkamper, our previous president. And I keep it near my desk as a constant reminder that the entire focus of our profession is to help students first. Nothing else, really, ranks higher than that.

But by the same token, I am acutely aware that there are a minority of people who abuse our commitment to service. They will be loud, demanding, and more often than not, will forge complaints about matters they had a hand in creating. Being service-oriented does not mean we are slaves. Students do have a right to complain, anyone does, but in doing so, they have a responsibility to voice their concerns in an orderly and civil manner.

I make it very clear to my staff that they are to help all students, whether they like them or not, but if for any reason any student (or parent) crosses the line and intimidates any of them, they can file a complaint with me and I will follow up. And I have. Over the years I’ve been very proactive in addressing every complaint turned my way about students and parents whose actions have not been civil. I talk to them, make it known that we will not tolerate abusive behavior, and warn them that further actions will be reported to the student conduct committee, campus security, or even the police, for that matter, depending on the severity of the action involved. Generally, this process works, for in every case, I’ve never really had to deal with the situation again. And while, yes, this is not one of the better aspects of my job–since we’ve been talking about the “bright side” of things–I guess the positive that comes out of this process is that I tend to keep my staff a little longer, for my philosophy on the matter is very simple: while we are here to serve, I’d rather lose a few abusive students than part with a good, well-meaning staff person.

Alan: What do you do away from your job?

Eric: I’m first and foremost a family guy (family first, as they say), so weekends are mostly spent with my wife and kids, who are no longer kids (one graduated from college, the other still attends). Part of the family aspect is that I always try to rebuild something around the house. This is a challenge since I’m a carpenter’s son who never paid attention when the ole man was giving out lessons. Hence, it takes me three days to repair something he would’ve taken a few hours to do.

I also spend innumerable hours running a Honolulu community theater that I founded back in 1993 called The Actors’ Group (TAG). Usually, my weeknights are associated with the theater in some form or fashion; if not acting, then producing or directing but most of all being the lead administrator (I’m the group’s president, a title I can’t seem to give away.), responsible for keeping TAG going financially. As part of my association with the performing arts, I write a lot. Screenplays are my love (Along the way I got an online screenwriting certificate from UCLA.), but I’ve also written nine produced plays and am constantly turning out stories of some type.

Lastly, I’m a travel addict. Been to 36 of our 50 states (33 on a cross-country trip in–I’m dating myself–1983), France, Italy, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Canada, and Samoa. My wife and I have made a commitment to travel abroad every year. Greece is our penciled-in target for 2010.

Alan Ishida - Rocky Mountain/Western Regional Director, Nelnet Partner Solutions (AK, CO, HI, KS, MT, NE, SD, UT)

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