TASFAA Community Blog

  • 17 Aug 2013 11:44 AM | Anonymous
    Now that Congress has passed and President Obama has signed the Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act of 2013, the law amends the Direct Loan interest rate section of the Higher Education Act of 1965. New interest rates for student loans begin for loans disbursed after July 1.



    Want a handy document that has the new interest rates on a one page word document? Click here.
  • 22 Jul 2013 5:55 PM | Anonymous
    A bipartisan group of Senators has reached an agreement that would cut the interest rate for 9 million undergraduates this year from 6.8% to 3.86%. Under the "Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act,” the interest rate for Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Stafford loans to undergraduate students disbursed during any 12-month period beginning on July 1 shall be fixed at the rate to the high yield of the 10-year Treasury note auctioned at the final auction prior to the preceding June 1 plus 2.05%, capped at 8.25%; the interest rate for Unsubsidized Stafford loans to graduate or professional students disbursed during any 12-month period beginning on July 1 shall be fixed at the rate to the high yield of the 10-year Treasury note auctioned at the final auction prior to the preceding June 1 plus 3.6%, capped at 9.5%; and the interest rate for Direct PLUS loans (including GradPLUS) disbursed during any 12-month period beginning on July 1 shall be fixed at the rate to the high yield of the 10-year Treasury note auctioned at the final auction prior to the preceding June 1 plus 4.6, capped at 10.5%. Direct Consolidation loans shall bear interest at the weighted average of the interest rate of loans consolidated, rounded up to the nearest one-eighth of one percent.

    These rates would apply retroactively to students who were impacted by the rate increase on July 1. The new rates are expected to produce an estimated savings of $715 million to go toward deficit reduction. In addition, the legislation calls for the GAO to undertake a complete study of the actual cost to the Federal Government of carrying out the Federal student loan programs authorized under Title IV of the HEA.
  • 22 Jul 2013 5:27 PM | Anonymous
    Welcome to a new year in TASFAA! 

    Your 2013-14 TASFAA Executive Board officially began its service on behalf of the Membership July 1 and they are already hard at work to make this a great year. Visit the TASFAA website throughout the year to keep up-to-date on all of the great training events being planned and see what they are planning. 

    Please remember that it is time to renew your TASFAA membership so you have continued access to the TASFAA listserv and other important information.
  • 14 Jul 2013 5:07 PM | Anonymous
    Money Mangement Tools for Students
    Doug Savage, TG Senior Regional Account Executive

    Technology keeps getting better and easier to use. The editing gear available for today’s high school film students is of a higher quality than the old-school equipment pros used not too long ago. New “smart” thermostats are saving energy and keeping homeowners cool. Camping out? You might consider taking along a lightweight solar panel to recharge your batteries.

    What’s true across in these contexts applies as well in managing finances. For adults, money management sites like Mint.com, software like Turbotax, and any number of personal finance apps have greatly simplified keeping track of money: how much comes in and when and where the funds are spent. In many cases, these are add-on services rather than products consumers must purchase. According to a 2012 U.S. News and World Report article, about one in four financial institutions make online tools available to customers. In short, consumers who used to dread the whole budgeting process are a few clicks away from colorful pie charts mapping spending categories, projections for the next month’s bills, and targeted savings accounts for fun things like vacations.  

    This boom in personal finance technology isn’t geared only at adults, either. There are many resources available for high school and college students, and these resources can help with learning about money management, clarifying the variables in key financial decisions, and better understanding the downstream consequences of upstream choices. Many of them, such as Budgetpulse, are free. Different sites offer different tools, and students may benefit from money management tools that help them make informed choices with regard to topics such as spending plans (budgeting), responsible use of consumer credit, understanding student loan repayment, and even how choice of academic major may affect future income.

    Budget Calculators

    The Department of Education’s website, like many student-oriented websites, offers a budget calculator. This tool allows the student to enter expenses by category and see how choices in one area affect resources in another. Watching the outcomes change as different values are entered may get students’ attention in a way that parents’ explanations sometimes fail to. Other sites, including www.bankrate.com, also offer budget calculators that students may find helpful.

    Credit Card Calculators

    You’ve no doubt seen the seductive approach of credit card offers geared to students who are all too often unable to understand the terms to which they’re agreeing. No interest for six months? Woo-hoo! Of course the interest may then skyrocket, meaning the effective rate on purchases made during the “free” period turns out to be quite high. Credit card calculators, like the ones available on Bankrate, may help students see through the monetary sleight-of-hand and make better decisions. Educational tools, such as Skills Builder on TG’s Adventures In Education (AIE™), add a fun game element to the student’s experience in learning the basics of how rolling over interest can lead to very expensive consumer goods.

    Student Loan Calculators

    By definition, student loans are a particularly important area of student financial decision making. Borrowing to pay for higher education is often a very good investment, leading students to high-earning careers and low unemployment. That’s a strong return on investment! Overborrowing, though, can lead to years of being burdened with debt, and a sense of bewilderment. “How did I get into this mess?” borrowers may wonder.

    Loan payment calculators, such as this one from FinAid!, help to reduce that confusion by giving students a better chance to understand the consequences of borrowing decisions. Similarly this calculator from AIE drills into the details of daily interest, so that students can see if it’s to their benefit to make payments early, and can see how much of a payment is applied to interest and how much to principal.

    A relatively new tool, based on TG’s research, even helps students to see how their choice of major and career affects the loan repayment affordability. The tool, Major Choices, is an online debt-to-income calculator in which students can get an estimate of potential median debt-to-income ratios for certain majors at many public college and proprietary institutions within Texas. The bottom line? More informed choices.

    "When students choose their college major, it usually corresponds to a career they have their heart set on," explained Jeff Webster, Assistant Vice President of Research and Analytical Services at TG. "We want to spotlight the importance of fully considering the way that federal student loans may take a significant bite out of potential future earnings, and educate students on how to balance that occupational choice with wise borrowing behavior."

    Whether it’s making a spending plan and adjusting a budget by categories, responsibly managing credit cards and steering away from bait-and-switch interest rates, or being smart about student loan debt and repayment (including thinking about one’s academic major and future career), students have a lot of financial choices to make. As technology continues to improve, tools like these will assist your students in finding their way to success.


    Doug Savage is a senior regional account executive with TG serving schools in TASFAA. You can reach Doug at (800) 252-9743, ext. 6711, or by email at doug.savage@tgslc.org. Additional information about TG can be found online at www.TG.org.
  • 14 Jul 2013 5:06 PM | Anonymous
    Author:  Chris Greene, Communications & Outreach Group, Federal Student Aid

    Subject: 2013 FSA Training Conference for Financial Aid Professionals*

    The FSA Training Conference offers premiere hands-on, face-to-face training for financial aid professionals throughout the financial aid community. Information on the 2013 FSA Training Conference is now available at http://fsaconferences.ed.gov.

    The date & location of the FSA Training Conference:

    December 3 – December 6, 2013
    (Tuesday, approximate 8am start time – Friday, approximate 3pm end time)

    Mandalay Bay
    3950 S Las Vegas Blvd
    Las Vegas, NV 89119

    This year’s conference program will focus on topics related to changes in Title IV policies and programs that affect your job and, more importantly, the students you serve. Session topics will include changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, Gainful Employment, 150% Direct Loan Sub Limitation, Pell Grant Lifetime Eligibility Limits, Loan Repayment Options, Verification and Return to Title IV, among others.

    Registration and lodging will be available within a couple of weeks. For further information regarding the upcoming 2013 FSA Training Conference, please visit our website at http://fsaconferences.ed.gov.

    Thank You,

    The Conference Services Team
    Federal Student Aid
    U.S. Department of Education


    * The FSA Training Conference is a series of training and technical assistance programs provided by the Department of Education for higher education financial aid professionals charged with administering the Title IV student financial assistance programs on their campuses. These programs annually provide more than $150 billion in federal grants, loans, and work-study programs to more than 15 million students attending over 6,000 participating schools. Proper training of the institutions responsible for packaging and disbursing these funds helps ensure the integrity of the Title IV programs and reduces incidence of waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement in these programs.
  • 14 Jul 2013 5:05 PM | Anonymous

    2013-2014 FAFSA and DOMA

    I have received lots of questions around how the recent Supreme Court’s decision may impact how certain students fill out the current FAFSA form.  The message below is our official response at this time:

     

    “At the President’s direction, the Department of Justice is working with all agencies, including the Department of Education, to review the recent Supreme Court decision on the Defense of Marriage Act.  This review will include the decision’s impact on the federal student aid programs in general and completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid in particular.   We will provide information and guidance on this matter as soon as it is available.”

     

    As noted in the message, once more information is available we will share it with all interested parties.  Stay tuned to IFAP.

     

    FAFSA and the IRS DRT

     

    This is a reminder about the June 12, 2013 Internal Revenue Service (IRS) press release which stated that the IRS will be closed due to furlough on Friday, July 5, 2013.   This means that the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) will not be available for use with the FAFSA on the Web nor will students/parents be able to order an IRS Tax Return Transcript on that day.  There is a posting to the IRS website, under “Tools” and Order a Transcript section.

    In addition, FOTW (www.fafsa.ed.gov) has the following statement:

    “The IRS Data Retrieval Tool will be unavailable beginning on Friday, July 5 from 12:00 midnight to Saturday, July 6 at 5:00 a.m. ET. During this time, students can still complete and submit a FAFSA by entering the necessary tax return information manually.”

    Please note that the next scheduled furlough date for the IRS is noted as Monday, July 22, 2013.

    Voter Registration Forms

     

    Dear Colleague Letter GEN-13-17 was recently posted reminding schools that in most states the HEA requires schools to make a good faith effort to distribute voter registration forms to their students.  Schools required to provide voter registration information include schools located in the District of Columbia, a state that requires voter registration prior to election day, or a state that does not allow voters to register at the time of voting.  There are currently only a few states and territories that are exempt from this requirement of which none currently exist in the SASFAA region.

    For more information please see DCL GEN-13-17 (http://ifap.ed.gov/dpcletters/GEN1317.html).

     

    Subsidized DL interest rates as of July 1, 2013

    We posted an electronic announcement today, July 3, 2013, discussing the change in interest rates for subsidized Direct Loans as of July 1, 2013 (from 3.4% to 6.8%).  We have been hearing concerns from schools and families about how they should proceed in case Congress modifies the current subsidized Direct Loan interest rates.  The announcement specifically indicates that the Administration continues to work with Congress to reach agreement on a plan to reverse the doubling of those interest rates. Further, the Administration has urged that any plan passed by Congress apply to all loans first disbursed after June 30, even loans already disbursed. If the law is changed, the Department and its servicers will adjust rates for all affected borrowers, including those who had already received their first subsidized loan disbursement, without any further action on the part of the borrower or the school.

    Therefore, not only should students and their families continue to complete FAFSAs if they have not already done so, but schools should continue to award and originate Direct Subsidized Loans with estimated disbursement dates.

    The Department will post to IFAP any new information surrounding changes to the subsidized DL interest rates as soon as it becomes available.

    Pell LEU

    Since I still get questions from time to time on this topic I wanted to point out to all schools that the Department recently posted an electronic announcement dated June 27, 2013 (http://ifap.ed.gov/eannouncements/062713PellGrantLEUDisputeEscalationProcess.html) that provides a step-by-step escalation process for schools and students to follow when disputing Pell Grant Lifetime Eligibility Used percentages. 

     

    The attachment to the announcement describes what the specific responsibilities are for the student, current school, any former schools and the Department.  Please note that we do stress that it is the responsibility of the student’s current school to coordinate the resolution of the reported dispute with the other parties; however, the former school is expected to cooperate with the current school’s request for information needed to document the alleged discrepancy.  If the former school does not cooperate with the current school the current school’s escalation to the Department will result in direct follow-up by the Department with the former school.

     

    Please see the June 27, 2013 electronic announcement and attachment for more information.  If you have questions regarding the information included in this announcement, contact the COD School Relations Center at 800/474-7268 or CODSupport@ed.gov.

    Your  FED,

    DAVE

    David Bartnicki

    Federal Training Officer

    ED/FSA/Atlanta

  • 14 Jul 2013 5:03 PM | Anonymous

    Summer Certification for HOPE and HOPE Access

    The 2012-2013 HOPE & HOPE Access certification will remain open for summer payments until 10:00 a.m. CST on Friday, July 26th.  As a reminder, you are asked to only certify students who are enrolled at your institution for the summer term.  Please do not certify students who are not enrolled at your institution.  TSAC will sweep e*GRandS to remove all uncertified 2012-2013 students soon after July 26th

    Additionally, institutions still have the capability to continue to certify students for the fall 2012 and spring 2013 terms.  If you have questions or need assistance, please contact Robert Biggers at (615) 253-7453 or robert.biggers@tn.gov.    

    TSAC Student Financial Aid Portal

    TSAC has “changed” the web address for the TSAC Student Financial Aid Portal to www.tn.gov/TSACstudentportal.  As a reminder, the TSAC Student Financial Aid Portal allows students to check the status of their state financial aid, email TSAC with questions, and to change the institution for their state financial aid award(s). 

    Students may still access the portal by visiting the TSAC website and clicking on the TSAC Student Financial Aid Portal link.  However, the web address, www.tn.gov/TSACstudentportal, will allow students and parents to go directly to the portal through a “redirect” process.  The web address will be included in the TSAC brochure that is in the process of being printed.  The link will also be referenced in correspondence to students and parents.

    Please post the link, www.tn.gov/TSACstudentportal, on your website and encourage your students to access the link.  If you have questions, please contact Naomi Derryberry at (615) 253-7478 or naomi.derryberry@tn.gov

    Tim Phelps

    State Programs Chair

  • 24 Apr 2013 10:05 AM | Anonymous
    Effecting Aid Policy: Your Data Can Tell a Compelling Story

    Linda Peckham, Senior Training Strategist, Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation

    With the proliferation of headlines on the fiscal cliff, aid cuts, and possible sequestration in the news, aid leaders are often asked to predict how funding cuts will impact the campus community. The request for instant information about the impact of policy shifts can leave the aid office struggling with ways to piece information together in meaningful ways. The aid office usually has most of the data they need to respond to these requests, but often, new leaders are not sure how to organize the information into a compelling narrative that informs or shapes new policy. As Rick Shipman, Director of Financial Aid at Michigan State University says about his early days as a new director, “I was immersed and surrounded by good data but I had no idea what to do with it to shape policy.” 

    Shirley Ort, Associate Provost and Director of Student Aid and Scholarships at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill (UNC), recommends that aid offices start organizing their data by working with the office of institutional research on campus in order to merge financial aid data with that from other campus offices, such as admissions and career planning. The goal is to build a baseline database from which to work. Once the data is organized into a comprehensive file, the aid office can easily track and display how aid policies and expenditures are shaping the class and the campus. 

    Additionally, the database can help model the impact of changes in aid policy on specific cohorts of students. “When we’re asked to predict the impact of a budget change, we can do so quickly and show a visual of exactly what type of students might be impacted by the change.” This approach has allowed UNC to communicate more effectively, both with senior leaders on campus and with state governing bodies when aid cuts are under consideration. 

    The UNC database includes over 40 variables based on student information from each class. Most of the data is culled from the financial aid and admissions files, and includes standard information that is commonly tracked. But Ort also recommends that aid offices dig deeper for data and think about the information that decision-makers might find useful when making policy decisions. “At UNC, we pull in parent job data and socioeconomic status (SES) as part of the student profile. After graduation, we can link career placement data to determine where a student is employed and at what income. The longitudinal data tells a powerful story about the impact of the Carolina Covenant® and other need-based programs on student outcomes.” As an example, UNC has been able to illustrate the connection between the investment in aid through the Carolina Covenant® program and significantly increased graduation rates, which results in long-term payoffs for the taxpayers of North Carolina. 
“We can show how the expenditure for our high-achieving, low-income Covenant Scholars results in graduate student and employment opportunities which will essentially pay back the grant over time through income taxes. It’s a powerful story when we show results from beginning to end,” asserts Ort.

    Once the data are organized into a useable framework, you have options for how to show results: charts, graphs, or scatterplots. Although these traditional illustration tools are useful, “don’t be afraid to make the data personal,” recommends Susan Murphy, Senior Associate Dean of Academic and Enrollment Services at the University of San Francisco (USF). Recently, the university had to communicate to both campus leaders and state legislators about the potential impact of cuts to the Cal Grant program, including how the cuts might result in lower enrollments, less diversity, and changes to academic programs. But the most meaningful data the university shared with decision-makers was about the individual students who would be impacted. “It’s easier to understand the result of budget cuts when the student impacted is someone you know. It’s not just the nameless student who can’t return to school – it’s the Dean’s favorite work-study student who he’s known for three years.” USF’s campaign to offset potential Cal Grant cuts was highly successful because it told a story about who, how, and why specific students would be impacted. “Basically, we provided a narrative with pictures that resulted in a very clear picture of long term impacts of the grant cuts,” states Murphy. 

    Together, Ort and Murphy have several recommendations for aid leaders seeking to use their data to tell a compelling story:

    • Build a baseline for every class. Include overall aid expenditures, family income levels, academic preparation, SES, ethnicity, and any other variables your institution finds important (athletes, academic major, state residency, etc.)
    • Isolate trends over time: show how aid expenditures are helping certain cohorts of students in five-year intervals. When the audience can see steady results over time, they are more likely to embrace the evidence of the impact of funding.
    • When asked for data, think beyond just showing the information visually; learn to shape the narrative. Studies show that our brains respond to stories, not just visual graphics, and that decision-makers are more likely to take action when they feel involved with the story.
    • Keep your visual displays simple and concrete. Your audience is more likely to comprehend data (and thus agree with you) when you isolate simple and concrete messages about what the data means for your campus.

    #########


    Linda Peckham, M.Ed.

    Senior Training StrategistLinda brings over 20 years of higher education experience to her role as senior training strategist. Having focused her career in the development of effective learning programs for education professionals, she is skilled in designing outcomes-based training programs. She is an experienced facilitator and speaker and has delivered presentations at NASFAA, NACAC, and the College Board.
  • 24 Apr 2013 9:50 AM | Anonymous
    May 2013 SmartSessions

    Pay as You Earn and changes to IBR and ICR can help borrowers successfully manage repayment. Learn more about these plans so you can better counsel students. This session will help you understand how students qualify for the various income-driven plans as you prepare for upcoming exit counseling sessions. 

    Specific topics covered include:
    • Borrower eligibility criteria
    • Plan comparisons and loan terms
    • Forgiveness provisions

    May 1st @ 12 PM, Eastern time 


    This participatory session reviews complex case studies to show how professional judgment can be a critical tool for providing financial assistance to students in special situations. Help students get the aid they need by making adjustments to either the elements that affect a student’s expected family contribution (EFC) or the cost components of a student’s cost of attendance. Our training consultants will review this act of authority in detail and offer opportunities for discussion.

    Specific topics covered include:
    • Why and when to use professional judgment
    • Permissible actions and required documentation
    • Common scenarios – loss of income, changes in assets, extraordinary expenses
    • Dependency override
    • Maintaining a professional judgment policy

    May 2nd @ 12 PM, Eastern time 


    Credit-based Programs and R2T4
    Return of Title IV (R2T4) doesn't have to be daunting. This session walks through a credit-based example to help you understand what it is and when it applies so you can effectively counsel students and help them make informed decisions about withdrawing from school.

    Specific topics include:
    • R2T4 basics: what it is, when it applies, the formula components for credit-based programs
    • Reviewing a hand calculation
    • Post-withdrawal disbursements

    May 16th @ 2 PM, Central time 

    May 23@ 11 AM, Central time 


    Satisfactory Academic Progress: Moving Students in the Right Direction
    To be eligible for FSA funds, a student must make satisfactory academic progress (SAP), and schools must have a reasonable policy for monitoring that progress. Learn the basics of the SAP policy and how it affects you. This session will review the requirements so you can respond to your students’ needs and move them toward successfully completing the program for which they are receiving aid. 

    Specific topics covered include:
    • Understanding institutional requirements
    • Identifying student eligibility requirements
    • Appreciating the differences between qualitative and quantitative components
    • Exploring consumer information requirements

    May 1st @ 3 PM, Eastern time 

    May 15th @ 12 PM, Eastern time 


    FERPA: Interpreting the Intricacies
    Protecting student privacy is paramount. Understand what needs to be included in your school’s Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) policy and gain a working knowledge of how to ensure FERPA privacy requirements are met in real-world scenarios. Consider this course not just an introduction to the basics of FERPA, but also an in-depth guide to understanding the rights of students and their parents regarding student education records. The materials presented have been vetted by our privacy specialists to ensure that you get the most accurate and comprehensive assistance available. 

    Specific topics covered include:
    • Review of final rules
    • Student and parent rights and FERPA
    • Right to access, review, and amend an education record
    • Compliance, complaints, and enforcement

    May 22nd @ 3 PM, Eastern time 


    Repayment Refresher: Standard, Graduated, Extended, and Consolidation
    Income-driven plans are all the rage. Yet millions of borrowers still go with traditional repayment plansundefinedstandard/level, graduated, and extended. Learn more about their place today, and consolidation, too. We’ll cover the pros and cons of each, and how you can help students evaluate their options during upcoming exit counseling sessions.

    Specific topics covered include:
    • Comparing benefits and considerations
    • Understanding which borrowers qualify for each option
    • Helping students develop a repayment strategy

    May 28th @ 12 PM, Eastern time 


    Tax Filing Rules: What Financial Aid Administrators Need to Know 
    Get a refresher on tax filing rules in advance of the 2013-14 verification cycle to better identify and resolve issues during the file review process. This webinar will take you through tax rules to ensure the data elements used to calculate the expected family contribution are correct.

    Specific topics covered include:
    • IRS filing guidelines and thresholds
    • Comparing filing status to FAFSA results
    • Tax filing status and verification processes 

    May 29th @ 3 PM, Eastern time 


    Deferment, Forbearance, and Forgiveness Options for Borrowers
    Federal student loans give borrowers a wealth of options for successfully managing repayment, including a number of deferment, forbearance, and forgiveness options. Brush up on them now, so you can effectively counsel students during upcoming exit counseling sessions, and help them exercise their options.

    Specific topics covered include:
    • Deferment
    • Forbearance
    • Forgiveness Programs
    • Consequences of default
    • Helping students develop a repayment strategy

    May 30th @ 12 PM, Eastern time 


    Modular Programs and R2T4
    Return of Title IV (R2T4) procedures for modular programs pose special challenges for an aid office. This session reviews the definition of modular programs and how the return of funds must be calculated to maintain Title IV compliance. We will review case studies and examples about how modular programs and student withdrawal dates impact the return of funds process and best practices for staying in compliance. 

    Specific topics covered include:
    • Modular program definitions
    • Earned and unearned funds
    • Withdrawal dates and calendar days
    • Best practices and case studies

    May 14th @ 3 PM, Eastern time 

    May 21st @ 12 PM, Eastern time 


    A Guide to Great Lakes Default Prevention Tools
    May 2nd @ 3 PM, Eastern time 
  • 24 Apr 2013 9:43 AM | Anonymous
    Perspective: Communicating more effectively with Spanish-speaking families
    Andrés Cordero, Jr., TG Senior Writer/Editor

    As a Latino, a former first-generation college student, and now a volunteer outreach ambassador for a public nonprofit, I’ve been on both sides of the college exploration process. I can appreciate the obstacles faced by students who want to go to college but who may be challenged by language, by a lack of family legacy in college attendance, and by the sometimes intimidating process of finding ways to finance a higher education.

    And let’s be honest undefined it isn’t exactly easy to get to college even if you aren’t hindered by these factors. Figuring out the path to college can be difficult, even in the best of circumstances.

    So when I can help families and students find their way, I enjoy doing it.

    If you, or others on your team, are planning an outreach event or activity and you anticipate interacting with Spanish-speaking families, here are a few things to consider.

    Recognize that college exploration can be a family affair

    Because of factors that include the level of financial commitment, relevance to a student’s future, and the possibility that the student will soon be separated from the family unit, many Latino families will explore the college-going experience together. Parents/guardians and siblings are likely to join the student as they attend events to learn more about college. Grandparents or aunts or uncles may participate as well. Because of this, you will want to be prepared to share information based on the perspectives and needs of others besides the student. For the student and his or her family, the event may be a shared experience, so be sensitive to these informational needs.

    Be courteous, open, and friendly undefined your body language will signal your approachability

    Learning something new can be intimidating to anyone, so pay close attention to the way you dress, to your body gestures, to your movements, and to your facial expressions. You will want to be approachable, without making people uncomfortable; casual glances and reassuring smiles are often subtle ways of inviting conversation. Some students and their families may look confused or overwhelmed; a simple “how can I help?” and an appreciative smile may be enough to get the conversation going. When it comes to clothing, business casual or casual wear is often best; avoid dressing in formal business wear that can imply you are selling something or are “too important” to be interrupted.

    Be respectful of and acknowledge adults and parents

    Many Latino cultures emphasize respect for older generations. Even if it’s clear that the student will be the one “conducting business,” be sure to recognize or acknowledge the student’s elders. A simple greeting will do, but neglecting this acknowledgement can be seen as a signal of disrespect, making it more difficult to establish rapport and trust. If you are speaking Spanish with the family, some Spanish-speaking parents may eagerly jump in once they realize you can answer their questions as well.

    Be an active listener

    When you invite a question or a conversation, stay with it through its conclusion as much as possible. Generally, students’ questions are the easiest to answer; parents and other elders may pose more complex and thoughtful questions. Avoid staring directly at the questioner; it is considered disrespectful and confrontational. Instead, glance slightly away, but shake your head back and forth, and give verbal cues that you are listening. Repeating what you are being asked is a good way to demonstrate that you understand, and gives others nearby a second opportunity to listen to the question before you provide the answer.

    Demonstrate you relate to their situation or circumstances

    Families in many cultures can feel that they are alone in not understanding a process or knowing the answer to a specific question. For families of first-generation students, this sense is often even more prevalent. To help families be more open to your responses, listen to their situations, as these often set the stage for their questions. Acknowledge their circumstances, restate their question, and, when possible, share similar examples. This “storytelling” approach to answering questions helps many remember what was said.

    Ask about a family’s needs before you begin

    Even if you determine that a family needs information in Spanish, avoid making assumptions about their situation. Spanish-speaking families are as diverse in fluency, level of acculturation, socioeconomic status, and other factors as English-speaking families. You may be dealing with a family that has recently arrived from another country and is unfamiliar with the U.S. educational system, or you may be dealing with a third- or fourth-generation Spanish-speaking family that simply has not assimilated fully to U.S. culture. Spanish speakers can come from many different countries, and so their choice of terms, tone, pitch, and annunciation may differ dramatically. They may have been highly educated in their country of origin, or they may be struggling to build a new life in the United States. 

    Know that many Spanish speakers appreciate your efforts undefined and they aren’t expecting perfection

    As with other segments of the population, professionals and volunteers who help students and families understand the college-going process have varying levels of Spanish-language proficiency. Some may understand Spanish, but may not be comfortable speaking it. Others find that they can speak it, but are uncomfortable writing in the language. Often, what is most important, and most valued, is the effort. Just as with English, Spanish is often spoken in a manner that is not strictly correct, and there is considerable license to modify language in whatever way is necessary to make it easiest to understand. Except in rare circumstances, most Spanish speakers are forgiving when it comes to minor errors. Their goal in these situations isn’t to grade your fluency; it is simply to gather whatever information they can to make the important decisions related to attending college.

    As you prepare for the busy season of educating students and families about going to college, recognize that your efforts do make a difference. These simple tips can help you better support those who are reaching out to Spanish speakers. Ultimately, any effort you and your institution can make in communicating this information will be appreciated by those seeking to build a better future for themselves and for those they love.


    Andrés Cordero, Jr. is a Senior Marketing Communications Specialist with TG. 

    Doug Savage is a senior regional account executive with TG serving schools in TASFAA. You can reach Doug at (800) 252-9743, ext. 6711, or by email at doug.savage@tgslc.org. Additional information about TG can be found online at www.TG.org.
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