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Profiles in the Financial Aid Profession: Jill Raynor from North Georgia College and State University

September 15, 2011


Jill Raynor, Director of Financial Aid at North Georgia College and State University, with Gary Mann, Director of Financial Aid at Southern Polytechnic State University

Kristi Jones: Tell me about your school.

Jill Raynor: I am atNorthGeorgiaCollegeandStateUniversity, inDahlonega,Georgia. We are one of the 6 military institutions in theUnited States, and we also have a liberal arts school attached. You might be familiar with The Citadel. We have all the military and the drills, so we’re very similar to The Citadel in that aspect, but we have a liberal arts component added to that.

Kristi: What would be some of the more popular majors that you have at your school?

Jill: Just like most schools: Education, Nursing, International Studies, and Business are the most popular.

Kristi: How’s enrollment going for you?

Jill: Our enrollment is out of the roof, which we are very pleased with.

Kristi: Is it traditional or nontraditional students that you are seeing?

Jill: We’re normally a traditional school, but we’ve now been seeing a lot more nontraditional students, and we recently added two new doctoral programs, so we’ve seen a great growth in that.

Kristi: How many students are at your school?

Jill: We have over 6,000, close to 7,000.

Kristi: How many folks do you have on your team?

Jill: There are eight of us.  One of our staff members was deployed to Afghanistan for 14 months and we are thankful to have her back.  We have a thousand students that are in the military program, so we do Montgomery GI Bill.

Kristi: It sounds like you have some really robust financial aid programs.

Jill: We have an actual Veteran Success Center that’s part of Financial Aid.

Kristi: How are the Veteran benefits? Are they better than they used to be?

Jill:  They are a lot better than they used to be. We have chapter 33, which is fairly new. This allows Veterans and their families help pay their tuition.  If a soldier is not using their benefits they can give part of their benefits to their spouse or children to use. They can get up to a thousand dollars a year for books, and they get a housing allowance as an E5 rate which is dependent on the zip code where their school is. They can get anywhere from $600 to $1800 dollars a month for their housing allowance.

Kristi: Can the student use this at any school?

Jill: Yes, the student can go anywhere. It’s based on the highest tuition rate at the public institution in that state.

Kristi: The student could use the benefit at a private institution, but it couldn’t be over that amount, correct?

 Jill: Right. Let’s say for example UGA has a flat rate that the student takes, instead of our tuition rate of $130.  At UGA, because it’s a flat rate, they get seven hours for $3,000, so the soldier can get $434 for tuition for ours, the student can get a lot in benefits. The other thing is it pays their fees.  The interesting thing about that is we have a flight school inGeorgiaand their fees are $15,000, so a soldier can get up to $15,000 for fees, while they’re at another state school.  Most of the private schools’ rates aren’t that high.

Kristi: How was your transition to direct lending?

Jill: We’re doing much better now.  We were struggling a little bit at first because we thought we would be able to start last fall. We were somewhat prepared. I will tell you that I was one of the biggest fighters of going, just because I believe in student choice. We had things in the background ready to go, we just hadn’t implemented everything.  Then when we went to implement it, we found out we had to back up to summer because our enrollment for summer was going to be so high. We had about a 15% increase last summer and looking to be near that this year. With such a large increase last year, we were not able to meet the July 1st deadline and had to certify both FFEL and Direct Loans.  This year has been much smoother.

Kristi: Have there been sources that you have found particularly helpful in the transition?

Jill: The NASFSAA presentation that they have on their website helped out a great deal, it sort of gave us a guideline of step 1, step 2… The other thing that’s really helped us is that GASFAA’s Professional Development Committee continues to come up with the steps that need to be done in Banner and giving us screenshots that we share with each other on how to set up Banner.  You can go to all the webinars you want to go to, but having a one-on-one conversation and having that person sitting next to you that you might not necessarily know, but they say “I’ve got that covered” or “I’m having issues with that as well”. Then you’ve got someone in the same boat with you, so you can network with that person. But when you’re on a webinar, you can’t network with them. That’s the downside of doing webinars, you can’t get that human contact or that immediate answer that you need.

Kristi: Tell me about something exciting you’re doing in your office, because I think it has to do with your webinars.

Jill: The majority of our classes on campus are run through this program calledVista, which is where our professors post their PowerPoints, syllabus, their reading assignments, and some of them even have chat lines and things for individual classes.  Since our students were used to logging into that, we actually did webinars for Direct Loans, and we broke it down into little tidbits, like 10, 15, 20 minutes at the most. We found that 20 minutes was a little too much for them.  We started losing attendance then, but at least they can go back and look at them since the webinars are recorded. Some families have it up on one computer and then actually follow the steps through the Banner process on another computer.  It’s been working really well and people have been excited about it.

So far we’ve had about 2000 hits. We hope that we’re going to be able to do more of these and expand it in the near future. We were going to try and do YouTube.  You know Brad Barnett from James Madison University, he’s an amazing speaker, and he has all of these wonderful YouTube videos, and they’re really great, but I didn’t want to do only YouTube. I also wanted something that was different from what our new students get, because our new students don’t know our technology or the terms we use. Our continuing students already know these terms, they know Banner, they know how to access banner, where their grades are, they know that kind of thing, so we can be a little more technical with them, and that’s why we put it on Vista, so that we wouldn’t confuse the new students who are going to be looking at our website.

 Kristi: It’s fun to see offices change as students change. Most of today’s generation would rather click on a video on a certain subject or get an app for it. It’s how they think now and it is important for us to meet their needs.

 Jill: We already have the MySpace and the Facebook pages; we did those three years ago. We’re looking into doing live chats now.  The negative aspect about live chats, why we haven’t been doing them and pursuing them as much, is because unless we actually do it through Vista, we can’t confirm who we’re talking to.  We don’t want it to be a detrimental to the student because we can’t answer their questions, so our hands are tied.

Kristi: Now for a couple of fun questions. What is your favorite movie?

Jill: My favorite movie is Beauty and the Beast.

Kristi: The Disney one?

Jill: Yes. I’m a huge, huge Disney freak. HUGE. My whole office is Disney. The Seven Dwarfs are my stapler, my business card holder and my paper clip holder.  The whole inside of my office is filled with lithographs and I have a Disney lamp and a Disney Tape Dispenser. 

Kristi Jones, Southern Regional Director (AL, FL, GA, MS, PR), Nelnet Partner Solutions

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