Takeaways from the 2019 MASFAA Conference

Melissa Maichle .

Did you know that before the Toyota Corolla, there was the Toyota Corona? This is one of the many interesting facts I never thought I’d hear at the 50th annual Massachusetts Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (MASFAA). The two-day event “Honoring the Past, Treasuring the Present, Shaping the Future” was held on November 14th and 15th at the downtown Sheraton in Springfield, MA. Always well attended, it’s the perfect event to discuss shop with some of the smartest minds in the country. 

I bring up the Toyota vehicle because Betsy Mayotte, founder of TISLA, closed out the event with a wonderful speech at lunch that highlighted key moments throughout MASFAA’s 50-year history. She compared how car prices have changed from 1969 through today along with the sobering increase of college costs, the amount of outstanding student loan debt and other tidbits about what we should look for when it comes to the Higher Education Reauthorization Act. Follow Betsy on Twitter if you don’t already –she has an abundance of industry knowledge!

The main lobby view where the conference
took place on two floors

To recap the two-day event, my chosen conference sessions started out in an interesting fashion as the first breakout session didn’t involve a single spoken word about financial aid. Instead, it focused on mindfulness and stress reduction within the workplace. I may have fallen asleep at some point in that hour, which was actually encouraged as you took your mind into a deep state of relaxation. The point was to take back practices in our hectic, everyday lives, especially when it comes to work, to help you become more centered and less stressed when times get tough. I’m glad I chose this session to begin the conference. 

Aaaaaahhhhhh, meditation

But now it was time to get down to business and a session on Professional Judgment cases was around the corner. Hearing from others in our industry about some of the most extreme PJ cases and how to document them when they arise was important to understand because it reminded us all of the authority we yield to make life-altering decisions for students.

After the morning sessions, we headed to lunch to hear more from the Eastern Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (EASFAA)  and catch up with colleagues before it was back to more learning sessions. 

A delicious salad served at lunch.

Thursday afternoon consisted of taking a deep dive into the 2018 federal tax return (warning: it has drastically changed for those who have not yet started the verification process) and learning how to teach students financial literacy through games they will enjoy. Note to self:  Financial Literacy Jeopardy and The Price Is Right are a ton of fun! Wait, is it really 5:00 already? Finally, some time to check into the hotel and then return for some chit-chat with the vendors. What a great first day, but I was exhausted!

Friday consisted of another day of learning, just not nearly as long as the first. Up on deck were chatbots and how aid offices are using them to provide 24/7 answers to questions that may arise for a global student body. For example, if you are seeing more questions about SAP once the semester is over,update your questions within the chatbot to tackle these and answer them effectively as you learn what the needs of your student body are in real time. 

A slide from the Chatbot presentation from Ocelot

Some of the heaviest topics were saved for the end of the conference, such as how assets are treated in the needs analysis formula and how to navigate the intricacies of institutional compliance in higher education. The asset questions posed by the presenter were very challenging and there was much debate from the overflow crowd about how each would handle the individual cases presented. With the compliance session, we learned how to find the information you need and the when/why items that may need to be presented all the way up to a college President in order to ensure appropriate actions are taken as they relate to Title’s IV and IX. 

Full of new understanding, it was time to wrap up the conference, have one last meal with hundreds of aid professionals and listen to the Betsy Mayotte speech that was referenced in the beginning. If you’ve never been to a MASFAA conference, I can assure you that you will definitely leave with newfound knowledge that you didn’t have before, land some amazing connections and have a splendid time with bright, like-minded people such as yourself. We hope to see you there next year! 

  • Jeff Megargell, HEAG’s Intake Coordinator
Outside of the conference after it ended, ready to head back with lots of new information!