by JoEllen Soucier
As an American, we sometimes forget about how lucky we are to be living in a country in which we have a voice and can speak to government to assist them with making good decisions for our people. We live in a very complex society and that complexity has been built over time. This is demonstrated in our own world of financial aid administration. How did we get here? Why are things so confusing and complicated? How can we streamline and simplify the financial aid processes without degrading accountability and safeguarding tax payers’ money to assist the neediest students? These are questions being asked by Congress as we approach reauthorization and there are a number of Congress men and women that are sincerely concerned about these issues.
The opportunity to attend college is not a guarantee for any American. It is a dream of a better life and those of us who work with the neediest of students know what it can take for a student to achieve that dream. I was one of those students who did not have college conversations at the dinner table as I went through high school. I was too busy working 2 to 3 jobs while I watched my single mother work many hours at the local factory for very little compensation. As a first generation student, I was ecstatic when the financial aid office informed me that I was awarded enough money to go to college. To this day, I do not complain about paying back my student loans because without them I would not have a professional job that I love and enjoy.
I had the rare opportunity and privilege to speak in front of Congress, the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Development, on Tuesday, March 21, 2017, to share some of the confusion and frustration that our students experience when applying and receiving federal financial aid funding. As we all know, many our students and families struggle with the process and become frustrated by the numerous barriers to overcome and tasks to be completed so they can attend college. I happen to know students who have given up on the possibility of attending college due to the complicated and frustrating financial aid process. I sincerely hope that the information I shared with Congress in March will provide enough information so they can make good decisions on simplifying and streamlining the processes and programs for the benefit of our future students.
The experience of speaking on the Hill and having the attention of lawmakers was incredible and I urge anyone who has an opportunity to participate with our political process to take advantage of that opportunity. There are so many things we can do to help Congress men and women understand what our students face as they work through the confusing process. Don’t be afraid to speak up and help lawmakers understand the complex issues. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your local representative to voice your concerns and ideas. Work with our state association, TASFAA, to present ideas to bring forward to those who care about student financing issues. Utilize real life student stories and struggles to demonstrate how much we need to change our current complex system. There is much work to be done by lawmakers but I believe the passion of our aid administrators and the tremendous need our students have for federal assistance will help them change the way we are required to administer aid.
I thank you all for the great work you do and please remember how much you change peoples’ lives. I can say with confidence and sincerity that you changed my life!
Executive Director of Financial Aid
Houston Community College System