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Profiles in the Financial Aid Profession: Richard Shipman, Michigan State University

August 12, 2010

Richard Shipman, Director of Financial Aid, Michigan State University

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

Rick Shipman:  I am split between the high quality of my coworkers and our excellent use of technology tools.  The staff takes real ownership of the problems that students bring to them and tries hard to make sure that they resolve all issues in a timely manner and in a manner that makes students and families feel good about the interaction.  For many years, we have provided a suite of web-based tools that allow students, families and staff to do all of the required processes online in a secure and user-friendly environment. 

Anne: Can you give me an example of one of the web-based tools that you use? 

Rick: Yes, we have a homegrown system that works the way we want it to work without having to touch paper! Ninety-seven percent (97%) of our students use our Efinaid website where they can accept or reject award letters, set up direct deposits for refunds, link to MPNs, and more. 

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

Rick:  We’ve definitely wrestled with budget cuts and reoriented our thinking about what we do and how we do it.  People say that a crisis is a terrible thing to waste and we’ve lived that motto in making organizational and operational adjustments.  It would be nice to say we’re done, but I’m not sure that’s the case. 

Anne: Tell me more about your adjustments. 

Rick: The biggest adjustment and impact was installing our imaging system.  We do not have to do paper faxes. Our electronic forms go to disc. As a result, we have significantly reduced our space needs for both student and administrative records. We are truly a paperless office, good exploiters of new technology, and a leader in using technology. 

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

Rick: I believe the trend is toward letting people do more for themselves, but we have enough complexity in financial aid to make that a difficult goal to achieve in all areas.  I’m not sure that we have really exploited the capabilities of new mobile technologies to communicate with students about financial aid.  Nor do I believe we’ve done as much as we could with audio and video media generally. Whether making the most of those technologies will make a difference for financial aid delivery is an unknown. It might just be another service to offer but make no difference in the workload or quality of service. 

Anne: Do you have any tips for schools that are transitioning to Direct Lending (or what was helpful to you as you transitioned)? 

Rick: Take the time to think through how you want the process to work and create a timeline of at least one year that lists the major loan related events so you can pay attention to the right things at the right time. The other thing that I believe is common sense in aid administration is to monitor borrower actions on the loans to make sure that failure to act in a timely manner on their part doesn’t become a crisis for you when bills are due.  For instance, we are pretty aggressive with returning borrowers who haven’t taken required loan actions but less so with those who haven’t borrowed before since we don’t know their intent and don’t want to push them to do something they don’t want to do. 

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

Rick: I’ve been fortunate to have a number of people who helped me along the way.  My former director, Tom Scarlett, gave me the opportunity to try lots of different things in the financial aid office and helped me understand when I was doing well or not so well.  I also give a lot of credit to my Big Ten colleagues.  We are an enviably close group who depend on one another to a degree that many would find surprising. We can be candid with one another with trust that it stays within our group.  It’s a very supportive group.  

Anne: 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? 

Rick: Unfortunately, I don’t think there is a magic bullet for default prevention but a set of things that can be helpful.  Different students need different interventions.  I believe that schools should intervene quite forcibly with students who are just starting their academic programs and struggling academically.  They are at high risk of dropping out and, therefore, high risk of default.  Reminding them of their borrower rights and responsibilities can be very helpful.  I also believe that schools need to be part of the default aversion work for borrowers who are no longer students. There is a connection most students have to their former school that they will never feel toward their lender or loan servicer. Getting involved with late-stage delinquency students can be a clear win-win for the student and the school. 

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

Rick: It really depended on my age, as what I wanted to be changed many times over the years.  The list included teacher, physician, psychologist, author, pharmacist and artist. Note that the list didn’t include financial aid anything! 

Anne: Funny!  I believe most of us would agree that we did not major in or ever intend to become financial aid professionals! What do you like most about your job? 

Rick: I like the opportunity to problem solve in so many different areas.  One day, the issue might be funds and the next it might be regulations and the next it might be award letter layout.  The variety really keeps it interesting. 

Anne: What is your favorite book, movie or food? 

Rick:   My favorite food has got to be popcorn, made the old-fashioned way on the stove with oil. A little salt or maybe Parmesan is all it needs. Hey, and it’s a whole-grain snack. 

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

Rick:  I make the world’s best chicken tortellini soup. 

Anne:  Michigan looks forward to tasting your soup at our next winter conference in Lansing, Michigan.  What is your favorite television show? 

Rick: Television, for me, is an escape, so I like shows that are kind of out there.  Fringe is one of my current favorites.  It has quirky characters and fantastic plots. 

Anne: Finally, can you share some of the professional financial aid organizations you are actively involved with and support? 

Rick: I served as past President of both MSFAA and MASFAA. I served on the Research Committee and Federal Issue Committee for NASFAA for the past two years. I also served on the Regional and National Assembly for College Board. 

Anne:  Thank you, Rick, for sharing. 

Anne Watson, Midwest Regional Director (MI, OH)

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