C2 January 25 2006

C2 Strategic C-level Discussions on Technology

January 25, 2006

From the Top

Financial Aid Consultants: Working For or Against Proper Distribution of Aid?


By David Sheridan
Assistant Vice President for Student Services
Stevens Institute of Technology (NJ)

It's certainly no secret that college costs are on the rise. An inevitable byproduct is that the financial aid budgets of most colleges, not to mention the allocation of increasingly scarce funds from taxpayer-supported aid programs, are being stretched to their limits. The assistance that students need seems to be getting harder to come by at a time when it's needed the most. On top of all of that, completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to be considered for aid is sometimes compared--unfavorably--to filing your taxes. Many students and families, already feeling the stress of getting into the 'right' college, then worried sick about how to pay for it, have reached the conclusion that they need all the help they can get to gain an advantage in this daunting process.

Enter the 'financial aid consultant,' a service provider who, for a fee, will assist families with applications, instruct them on the basics of financial aid and paying for college, offer advice on how to potentially increase aid eligibility, conduct scholarship searches, and may even intercede on the student's behalf in communications with the college's Financial Aid Office. These consultants will charge a family anywhere from a few hundred to a thousand dollars or more, depending on the level and amount of services provided. But is this a sound investment for a family that already considers itself in need of resources to help pay for college? Are there ethical and even legal issues involved? And what impact might there be on a college if consultants are assisting many of its families?

Application forms for anything can be cumbersome, confusing, and time-consuming. Many people pay H&R Block a fee to wade through IRS regulations and formulae each year rather than doing so themselves, and without a second thought. They pay people to mow their lawn, clean their gutters, and change their oil. So, they figure, why not pay someone to complete the FAFSA for them?

Remember, though, the first 'F' in 'FAFSA' stands for 'free.' There is no charge from the source (the Federal Government) to process this form, and there are professionals at colleges and high schools who can offer assistance at no cost to anyone who needs it. Yet many consultants-both those who work face-to-face and the growing number of online FAFSA completion services-try to make the family believe that their assistance will streamline the procedure, even though the form collects data that only the family can provide. After attending their high school's annual Financial Aid Night presentation, chances are that all but the most data-challenged parents will be able to complete the FAFSA themselves, and they'll be able to do so accurately. Despite horror stories about applicant blunders that consultants use to heighten anxiety among potential clients, errors are not fatal, and they do get fixed.

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Need to Know

Stardust Is Pay Dirt for University of Washington Astronomer

NASA's Stardust mission capsule, which landed on schedule with pinpoint accuracy in the Utah desert on Jan. 15, brought back samples from comet Wild 2 that will help scientists open a new window to the past and uncover more clues about the origin of the universe. Dr. Donald Brownlee, a University of Washington-Seattle astronomy professor and the Stardust science team's principal investigator, observed, 'This is the longest return voyage-nothing has ever gone this far away and come back… Our seven-year journey actually went back in time 4.5 billion years to gather these primitive samples.' Scientists in labs around the world will study the samples with a range of instruments, including electron microscopes, mass spectrometers, and even Stanford University's (CA) two-mile long linear accelerator (SLAC). Stardust is one of NASA's Discovery missions, managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, CA. Along with the University of Washington, major partners for the $212 million project include Lockheed Martin, B'eing, Germany's Max-Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, the NASA Ames Research Center, the University of Chicago; the Open University (UK), and the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

Internet Innovation is RAD

A recently established Reliable, Adaptive, and Distributed systems laboratory, or RAD Lab at UC Berkeley aims to invoke processes like statistical machine learning-the same technology used in autonomous vehicles-to enable much faster development of Internet services by small groups and individual entrepreneurs. The lab's research is being funded for five years with $7.5 million from Google, Sun Microsystems, and Microsoft.

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Who's Where

Klawe Named President of Harvey Mudd

Renowned computer scientist Maria Klawe will make the move from her post as dean of Princeton University's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (NJ), to Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, CA, where she will become the college's fifth president on July 1. She succeeds Jon Strauss, who served as president for nine years
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Ron Bleed Becomes Vice Chancellor Emeritus

IT leader and visionary Ron Bleed is now Vice Chancellor Emeritus at Maricopa Community Colleges (AZ), where he worked through the end of 2005 as Vice Chancellor, Information Technologies. Highly regarded at the national level for his many contributions to the IT profession, Bleed received the 2005 Educause award for Excellence in Leadership this past fall.

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