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Profiles in the Financial Aid Profession: Tammy Higgins from Pittsburg State University, KS

December 21, 2011

Tammy Higgins, Director of Student Financial Assistance, Pittsburg State University (KS)

We’ve all heard that it takes a greater number of facial muscles to frown than it does to smile. That’s good news for Tammy Higgins (Pittsburg State University, KS) who says, “My favorite thing to do in life is laugh.” Her positive outlook and laughter have followed her from Missouri to Kansas to Oklahoma and back to Kansas. She is a ferocious crafter; she loves scrapbooking, card making, photography, repurposing things, reading, and spending time with friends and loved ones…traits that she says come from her grandmother Isabelle.  Tammy has plenty of reasons to laugh and smile…her husband does all of the cooking (she’s the baker), her son was recently married, and she’s going to Europe next summer with her daughter and mother for a fabulous vacation/Girl Scout adventure. Will she continue to laugh and smile as she chaperones 50 Girl Scouts? Tune in next year.  

Don Buehrer: How did you select financial aid as your profession?

Tammy Higgins:  I had some good experience in higher education at the time a position opened up at Missouri Southern State College, and I loved working with students.  Oh, yeah, and that’s the only job that was available when I applied.

Don: What major changes have you seen in financial aid during your years in the industry? 

Tammy: Well, my old boss (Jim Gilbert) at Missouri Southern State University (College) told me that we’d be going paperless soon.  That was in 1987…hmmm, haven’t seen that transition yet. Sometimes it’s so difficult to “remember” the current policies, when those old ones were so drilled into your head. Thank goodness for new blood in the field to keep us “old-timers” on our toes!

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

Tammy: Movie:  Upcoming Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Part I…can’t wait for that baby to be born!  Book: I loved “The Help” this summer…no time to read since then.  TV Show: Love my “Raising Hope” and “Graham Norton” (BBC).  They make me laugh out of my socks!

Don: If you could change one financial aid regulation, what would it be and why?

Tammy: I would probably rescind the verification processes.  If a student wants to “cheat the system”, they will find a way.  We’re making it so difficult for all those who are honest and are being overrun with so much more to do as administrators each year. We’re losing focus on the real reason that we’re in the business…to serve the students when and how they need it.  Why do we have to be such bad guys?

Don: Who are/were your mentors?

Tammy: In the business, I would have to say that Marilyn Haverly played an important part in my learning process.  In an administrative position, Joanna McCormick and Jon Lantz, both previous employers, were amazing to work with.

Don: What is the most enjoyable part of your job?

Tammy:  Hearing the “click” when they get it, and then seeing the smile on their face as recognition that I was able to make them understand.  I feel appreciated when they give me a smile with their eyes.

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

Tammy:  I’ve told you all my secrets in this article already!  Okay…I don’t cook, I only bake. My husband is the cook in our home and does such a fantastic job (and loves doing it!) that I’ve almost forgotten how to cook.

Don: What has been your biggest challenge work-wise over the past 12 months? 

Tammy: Trying to figure out how the Two Awards in a Year Pell Grant was going to work (and then keeping my tongue in check when it was booted off the scene after MONTHS of preparation!).

Don: How do you spend your time when you’re not working?

Tammy: With all of my favorite peeps. I feel like I run a marathon every week trying to keep up with all the outside activities we do, but I also love it.  I’ve got plenty of time to “rest” when I’m old.  Hmmm, maybe that’s what’s keeping me so young-looking! I know, I know, I’m so modest, right?

Don: If you could invite any three people to dinner, who would they be?

Tammy:  The first three people that come to mind are: Tom Hanks and Zach Galifianakis (because – what’s my favorite thing to do? – laugh!); and my Grandma Richards (she passed away in 2003, but I still need some advice from her).

Don Buehrer, Regional Director, Nelnet Partner Solutions

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