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Profiles in the Financial Aid Profession: Dora Sims & Jessica Solcich, Alvin Community College

December 23, 2010

Jessica Solcich, Financial Aid Counselor, Alvin Community College

Lou Murray: How long have you been in financial aid?

Jessica Solcich: Seventeen (17) years. I have been at Alvin Community College (ACC) nine months. Prior to ACC, I worked for Texas Guaranteed (TG) and Houston Community College.

Dora Sims: I have been in financial aid, here at Alvin Community College, 21 years.

Lou: What is your current job focus?

Jessica: This year it is settling into Direct Lending.

Dora: I serve as Director for the entire Title IV and institutional program.

Dora Sims, Financial Aid Director, Alvin Community College

Lou: What makes your campus unique?

Jessica: Coming from the background of working with other schools in my prior job, I can say that Alvin is truly a community. The size is small enough where everyone knows everybody. Students can still have a lot of participation in things, but at the same time we have somewhat outgrown ourselves in certain areas.

Dora: We have a lot of support from our community. Our students know everybody. If I were to run by the store, I would get stopped regarding a question about financial aid, specifically, “When can I get my refund check!?!” I would love to conduct a study on economic development on the weekend that we send out Pell checks. I would love to see the impact we have at the local Walmart!

Lou: What has been your biggest work related challenge during the past 12 months?

Jessica & Dora (simultaneously): Direct Lending and year-round Pell.

Jessica: And just having to relearn the landscape. I was aware of servicers before; I am VERY aware of them now. Our huge increase in applications has also been a challenge—almost mind-blowing. ICERs are up 85%. Enrollment is up 20%. We just made our 1 millionth contact hour. That’s a big deal!

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

Jessica: I’ve had to change the way I send out mass e-mails, because I have requests from students not to include pictures and graphics; everyone is checking e-mails via phone. They say, “Just text.”  The first two sentences are all they are going to read.

Lou: So you agree with Nelnet’s efforts to move into the texting environment?

Dora: Yes! We would love to offer the feature, but the challenge of getting the buy in is big.

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?

Jessica: For our population, I am trying to basically get students to look at their indebtedness and look at the big picture. I want to get them to consider “How much do I owe?” versus “Give me my loan money now.” My strategy is to get them to understand where that money is going to get them in five years.

Dora: From my perspective, I would like to see buy in from our Board and President to understand what the 3-year CDR model means, because they don’t [understand]. They see that we went down on our rate, and that’s wonderful, but what are they going to do next year when we get a rate that triples?

Jessica: We need to communicate to them that we do not have the support of all of the lenders, servicers, and guarantors that we used to in FFELP.

Dora: It takes a lot of time. I only have one person. It would be nice to get more staff. They don’t see the full picture.

Lou: What do you like most about your job? Probably the commute to work, right? (Both live 40+ miles away, in or past Houston.)

Jessica (chuckling): Yes, the commute is definitely the worst part of it! I love the staff here. All of them…Financial Aid…everybody. I’ve been pleasantly surprised how welcoming everyone is. I feel like I’ve been here the whole time. I didn’t realize, while at TG, how much I missed working with the students. Even with those frustrating ones, it is still so rewarding knowing I am making an impact.

Dora: I think that is exactly what it is. You see the difference you make. It’s the student I saw on my very first day, crying, to the students I see walk across to receive their diplomas. Students will say, “I couldn’t have done it without Financial Aid. I couldn’t have done it without your support.” That makes it all worth it. It’s neat to watch that person become what they wondered if they could someday become.

Lou: Who has been your mentor?

Dora: I have to say, for me, it was Becky Miles (College of the Mainland). She served for a long time. She was always there to lend a helping hand. Richard Hyde (Wharton County Junior College) is another one I can always rely on if I need to call, even when I first met him and I was new to Financial Aid. There are so many that have left the industry that have impacted me.

Jessica: My initial mentor was Wilma Perkins (Houston Community College), and the women I “grew up” with in Financial Aid, like Cora Battle (University of Houston-Downtown) and Amanda Jurovic (Rice University). Once I expanded my horizons to TG, people like Richard Hyde and Linda Ballard (Texas Southern University), who have been running their offices for so long that they have gone through more transitions than what we are facing right now. I’m lucky to work with Dora, here, who has 21 years of financial aid cycles to lean on.

Lou: What is your favorite movie?

Dora: Right now it is Eat, Pray, Love. My all time favorite would be Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Jessica: Love Actually.

Lou: Name one thing most people don’t know about you.

Jessica: I am a huge animal lover. My husband and I are members of a few zoos around the country and a couple of shelter groups. I would probably take home every stray if he would let me. We have limited ourselves to two cats for the time being.

Dora: I love New York City, especially at Christmas. This December I am going to see Al Pacino in The Merchant of Venice on Broadway. A couple of years ago, while visiting The Today Show, we got on the air with our hot pink sign that said, “SEND MONEY!”  Each trip has many wonderful memories and, of course, the shopping!

Lou Murray, Southwest Regional Director

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