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Profiles in Financial Aid: Laurel “Sam” Halstead from the Medical College of Wisconsin

July 3, 2012

Laurel “Sam” Halstead, Senior Financial Aid Advisor, Medical College of Wisconsin

Alan Ishida:  You are a member of one of Nelnet’s regional advisory councils.  What are some of the things that you hope to accomplish through your participation, or why is it important for you to dedicate time to serve?

Sam Halstead:  I appreciate the opportunity to serve on Nelnet’s Regional Advisory Council.  Since the move to Direct Loans, the voice of the Financial Aid administrator has been diminished. This gives me the opportunity to have a voice at the servicer level, and Nelnet has been responsive to this.  My goal on the advisory council is to bring a heightened awareness to issues that impact higher debt grad/professional students such as the frequency of interest capitalization and encourage Nelnet to carry out practices that are in the best interest of the borrower.  Also, having dedicated customer service reps for higher debt grad/professional students that are trained to answer the more complicated questions that a medical school borrower would have during school and repayment is something that I would like to work with Nelnet on establishing.

Alan:  When did you begin working in financial aid? 

Sam:  I started working in financial aid as a work-study student in January of 1976.  Ok, so most people in financial aid today weren’t born then!

Alan:  Is there anything that troubles you about our current program?  If so, do you have any ideas for improving or revamping things for the benefit of all individuals seeking a higher education?

Sam:  I have seen administration after administration in Washington come up with new ideas of how to assist students fund their higher education goals.  The current “Pell at all cost” is very troubling to me.  I understand how we all need to make sure that higher education is accessible to all students.  We need to go back to educating families that financing higher education is the primary responsibility of the family.  We’ve lost this somewhere along the way.  Mortgaging futures of the next generation while parents make no plans to save for college needs to be changed.  I have had this plan in my head for revamping financial aid for the past few years and you have given me the forum to express my thoughts!  Here goes:  I propose we do away with free money for college such as the Pell Grant.  Instead, turn this into loans. I believe the interest rate on the loan should be very low or even zero.  When the borrower leaves school (at graduation or before) and begins to work, rather than contributing to Social Security the employer automatically deducts a certain percentage as they do with FICA and this is sent to repay the loan they borrowed.   Hey, the tax payers are still getting the money back to lend again! How much time does it take for a Pell recipient to increase their earnings so that money goes back into the system?  After the student loans are paid in full, the payroll deduction is then returned to the Social Security system.  With this being a percentage of income, this plan uses the same philosophy of the IBR and ICR repayment plans. This system would assist all students, not just those who receive Pell grants. (Ok, I will now step down from my soap box).

Alan:  Tell us something about yourself that few of your colleagues may know.

Sam:  I am enjoying this time in my personal life.  Our youngest son just graduated from college and is moving to Houston for his new job.  Our oldest son is getting married in September.  When my husband and I became “empty nesters” a few years ago, we began leading a small group from our church whose members are also empty nesters.  This has been a wonderful blessing in my life.  We send “share packages” to the college students from our church and encourage them to share the goodies we send from home with roommates or other friends.  This has been a hit!  Since both our sons were greatly involved in sports, we missed sitting in the bleachers when they left home.  We began scoring college basketball games to stay involved.  You can find me running the shot clock at basketball games during the Wisconsin winter months and riding my bicycle during the gorgeous Wisconsin summer months.

Alan Ishida – Regional Director, Nelnet Partner Solutions (AK, CO, HI, Guam, IA, WI, WV)


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