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President’s Column: NACAC’s E-Learning Platform is Here

By David Burge

Extending as far back as 1988 –my freshman year of high school! - NACAC members have talked about the need for educational opportunities to demonstrate mastery of knowledge and skills necessary to conduct college admission counseling. This has been affirmed more recently by member surveys where nearly three-fourths of our members said they would appreciate NACAC finding a way to bring educational opportunities closer to home.

Last week, NACAC announced that its first e-learning course—a set of online training modules that will enable members to learn anytime, anywhere, and at their own pace—is now available. This first offering on the NACAC educational platform, “Financial Aid 101,” offers a comprehensive review of financial aid procedures and guidelines to professionals advising student about paying for college. This e-learning course is an opportunity to acquire and demonstrate foundational knowledge on the topic of financial aid/paying for college and includes topics like financial aid award letters, information about student loans, and how to advise families on loan repayment. 

One need not do our work for very long to see that the market for financial aid/paying for college information is rife with commercial interests and entanglements. The NACAC team developing this course has placed a great deal of emphasis on giving learners a pre-vetted resource on which they can rely for information that is impartial and free of commercial influence. The organization believes that it is in the best interest of all students for those assisting them through the college selection/transition process, regardless of their role, to have a deep understanding of financial aid.

NACAC’s Current Trends and Future Issues Committee has been a guiding force in identifying this concept as the place to start. Almost one year ago, they confirmed that this topic was of critical importance to address in a formal memo sent to the NACAC Board of Directors. It highlighted the following:

1. College “value” extends beyond financial gain, yet non-financial benefits are often missing from public discourse.

2. While many students need to borrow for college, the amount they’ll owe is not as much as they fear/hear.

3. There are ways to talk with students and families about the “right” amount of borrowing.

Having received this direction from a standing NACAC committee composed of our members, the staff spent time and reviewed all of the existing research and resources that are available on this topic. From that research, they identified that a solid foundational educational resource, aimed at entry-level professionals (primarily), but also available to more experienced professionals who wanted to stay current, was the niche that NACAC could occupy, adding value to what already exists.

As a vice president for enrollment management in my day job, I see this course as particularly valuable for staff new to the profession and I assume my school counselor friends might agree with me. Given its modular nature, it should be easy to integrate this into existing training and easy to access on an individual basis. In my experience, the vast majority of entry-level admission officers get their financial aid training directly from the financial aid office – a reasonable and appropriate approach. One potential use for this training is that it could be a way to educate new staff at a basic level before visiting the financial aid office and allow such a training to function at a deeper level. And, on the counseling side, public school counselors can get continuing education clock hours (CEs), which help them with re-certification at the state level, by taking this course. The course costs $100 for NACAC members and $125 for nonmembers.

This is just the beginning, we hope to see new modules added to this e-learning platform that can help make good on one of the core elements of the strategic plan, to “offer learning experiences in multiple formats and modes of delivery to increase accessibility and improve learning outcomes.”

I hope you will spend some time discussing this new resource and that many of you will choose to be a part of the inaugural class. The lessons we learn from this initial offering will only make future offerings stronger.

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