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FSA Atlanta Recap


Stop and think about the last time you attended a national conference and felt a sense of gratification and marvel; a conference where you expanded your professional knowledge, while sharing the experience with some very dedicated colleagues. This year’s FSA Conference provided just that.

About a week before the conference, an announcement inviting NJASFAA members to respond if they planned to attend was sent. At least twenty responses quickly followed before my departure Monday. By Tuesday, about another dozen NJ financial aid administrators appeared at the Georgia World Congress Center for the start of the conference. We gathered at general and group sessions. We participated in COD & NSLDS Hands on Training. We “Asked a Fed” and heard from the Feds about Comment Code 399, Campus Based programs, the new Borrower Defense Rules, SAP, Gainful Employment, Drops, Withdrawals, the Pell Recalculation Date and more. Wednesday, the week took an unexpected turn when cell phones began to chime and buzz with tornado alerts, complete with session evacuations. Luckily, there wasn’t much more than a few gusts of winds with passing rain so we returned on Thursday to chuckle at the blow-up Magic 8 Ball that Jeff Baker brought and placed at the front of the General Session meeting room where a veteran panel fielded questions that were difficult even for them to answer. Along with colleagues we toured the World of Coca-Cola, dropped in at Margaret Mitchell’s house, CNN and the Civil and Human Rights Museum. In the evenings we gathered for dinner at Max Lagers, Meehan’s Public House and Sweet Georgia’s Juke Joint for delicious meals and music. While taking in a view of the city from the top of Hyatt Regency, we shared our opinions on the future of financial aid and ended the week of professional training and development with dinner at Benihana.

I’m sure that by the time wheels touched the ground in Newark on Friday evening (or later) many were as glad as I was to be back home. But the trip and the time spent together with colleagues left me with a tremendous sense of wonder at the work we do and great pride in the talent that gathered in Atlanta (6500 hundred financial aid professionals from across the country). Financial aid administrators posses a wealth of knowledge on requirements, regulations and formulas (technical and other) that result in billions of dollars being awarded to students across the nation. It is an important job that we are called to do each day and I am proud to share that experience with very special NJ colleagues both in Atlanta and on a daily basis!



Fall Greetings ~

Labor Day is behind us and summer is nearly gone. As we welcome a new class of students to our campuses and classrooms, NJASFAA Committees are starting to organize their agendas. It’s easy for the seasons and the years to blur into one another: fall, winter, spring summer.

Twenty-eight years ago, I became a financial aid administrator in New York State. Twenty-two years ago, I accepted a position in New Jersey and joined NJASFAA. In 2011, Jim Anderson asked me to join the Government Relations Committee and then, in 2012, to take on the challenge of being NJASFAA Treasurer. That was the year that Sandy decided to wreak havoc on New Jersey and upend the fall conference. I asked myself as I struggled to maintain “work-life” balance with three children, one about to graduate college, a second in his sophomore year and a third about to enter high school how I thought I could accomplish it all. I still wonder what I was thinking but I plowed on. I got past being Treasurer and then Past-Treasurer with an awful lot of help and support from Doug Wilson and my family. The NJASFAA bug had bitten me. Once you get involved it’s hard to become uninvolved. You make personal connections. You share your experiences with colleagues from across the State. You read about upcoming legislative proposals. You squirm thinking what these will mean when they are implemented. All along, you ask yourself how much can a financial aid officer be tasked with doing? How can I sensibly explain SULA, PELL LEU, legal guardianship, the effect of R2T4 formulas and modules, while juggling reporting deadlines and system implementation? And you realize that to maintain your sanity and this profession alive you need to become engaged in the process, whether it’s advocating for simplification, sharing your expertise and knowledge with others, mentoring a new professional, assisting in expanding financial literacy or promoting dialogue. NJ has a vibrant and diverse community of financial aid professionals. I hope you accept the challenge to become an active participant and that we have the opportunity to meet at an event sometime in the near future

Visit us on Facebook

The Jersey shore. ~ We all probably have some fond memories of times spent with family and friends along its sandy beaches and boardwalks. On June 9th and 10th, the newly elected Executive Council members spent time there getting to know more about ourselves and each other by taking the Myers-Briggs Inventory Test. We put our thoughts together to craft budgets that will support training sessions, as well as the annual Conference and Committees that will assist the State’s financial aid administrators become better prepared to serve our students, their families and a large network of guidance counselors. We debated ideas, proposed training initiatives and decided that it was time for NJASFAA to develop an expanded presence on the web, which will include a Facebook page. Today, the NJASFAA Executive Council, Felicia Bryant and I invite you to visit that page. Follow our schedule of events. View and like the photos that will appear of your colleagues and you.

NJASFAA is comprised of a diverse group of individuals that represent many sectors; a growing professional family which values the expertise of long standing Council members like Ninfa Mueller, Doug Wilson and Ed Gonzalez. We are moving forward with the steady support of our Past President, Cynthia Montalvo, our current President, Wil Casaine and the President-Elect, Tammi Hussey, as well as the stewardship of Mike Livio, Joanna Cellary and Catherine Boscher–Murphy, a NJASFAA legend, who was unable to be there for the photo op, but keeps us moving in the right direction. The 2016/17 year is sure to be full of challenges, opportunities and upheaval with PPY, new filing deadlines dates for the State programs, more PJs, and SULA. Stay tuned for training sessions, an exciting conference and plenty of networking opportunities. See you on FB!

Mike Bennett’s Memories of Joe

This weekend we learned of the passing of Joe Roberto. Michael Bennett’s memories of Joe were shared on the NJASFAA listserv this morning. They describe the Joe Roberto many remember. Here are his recollections:

Like many of my financial aid colleagues and friends, I became numb at the news of Joe’s passing and cannot imagine a world without Joe in it. Joe was larger the life, a big part of conference success and enjoyment (NJASFAA, EASFAA, NASFAA) and touched everyone he met. Below are some thoughts on Joe.

Joe was an AMAZING story teller

Joe filled every room he ever walked into. I also enjoyed the look on someone’s face when they first met Joe and as he roared a story. Eyes would be blinking and darting, feet would be shifting and they would be thinking this simply can’t be true!

Joe was “The Most Interesting Man in the World” before the guy on the Dos Equis commercials.

I like to believe EVERYONE of Joe’s stories were 100% accurate.

Joe was “Mr. Financial Aid” (period)!

Joe has done more high school financial aid presentations that Mc Donald’s has sold hamburgers. (and I know Dave Sheridan will pick up the 1,000 FA presentations scheduled for this Spring. One of my favorite written pieces by Joe was written in March 2003.  Joe Roberto’s – No Such Thing as a Dumb Question?


Joe was a Man of Faith

Joe was a “favorite son” of every Roman Catholic “Sister”, priest, school, parish and probably Pope Francis.

The outpouring of prayer at the news of Joe’s passing probably had Joe coming through the pearly gates in a limousine waving to St Peter mouthing “I’ll stop back later”

Joe ran Financial Aid Conferences

Joe was never wrong and there was only one way to do things – Joe’s way. If you served on a conference committee with Joe you simply “buckled up and enjoyed the ride.”  You were not to worry about ANY details, Joe had EVERYTHING under control and a vast invisible network of “friends” handling things. I LOVED every moment I would have with Joe at a conference.

Joe liked to EAT

I am proud to admit, as are many of Joe’s friends, that I ate until closing at several buffets with Joe (the more Italian food, the better).

Joe was an AMAZING gambler

I spent time with Joe in the casino and at the horse track and laughed when he said “I’m going to find you a hot slot machine” Minutes later I was asking him to help me carry my winnings to the cashier. His horse betting strategy was more complicated than Federal Methodology ..  he won 2 trifectas a day we were at the track together.

You held your breath anytime Joe had a microphone in his hand

One of my favorite Joe stories was when we had to evacuate the hotel at a NJASFAA conference. Let’s just say Sister Ann Michelle could have been better prepared to flee her room at 3 am. As I followed Sister Ann out of the building, I prayed softly for God to temporarily blind the large crowd waiting for us so they would not be traumatized by the pajamas and robe she was wearing.  Most of the crowd out of respect looked down and would not make eye contact with Sister. The next morning at breakfast, Joe walked up to the microphone and said “And the winner, for Best Dressed in a Fire Drill goes to Sister Ann Michelle!”

Joe was a wonderful gift giver

Joe and I LOVE Bruce Springsteen. One of the nicest moments I ever had was when Joe (with a full security detail) moved my son and I from the back of the stadium floor to 15th row seats and gave us the night’s song list set at a Springsteen concert at the Meadowlands. (Sing it with me “Glorrryyyyy Daaaayyyysss”).

Joe loved Donna, Nicholas, Jackie his extended family most of all

Joe leaned the most on those he loved the most. He never stopped talking about his family and brought his family to most financial aid conferences.

One thing I do know, as a father and a man. I know throughout his entire being, Joe realized he was blessed with the greatest gift of all.

The gift that gives true peace when it is time to return Home … and that gift is “Family” The greatest peace comes from knowing “My family will be my monument”

I celebrate Joe’s life and legend. I know he would want us to have the courage and the will and the strength to go on with our lives, as painful as that may be. To always remember Joe, his legendary stories, the principles he stood for, and most importantly, the deep love he had for each of us.  Joe is a “friend of mine” and a “friend of ours” and as Jersey natives, you know what that means.

Any conversation that I ever had with Joe ended with Joe saying the following words. Joe would say “If you need anything, and I mean anything, you call me.” Truer words have never been spoken and I would hope that Donna, Nick and Jackie know we now back that promise on behalf of Joe.

May the values that Joe lived and the love that he gave warm our hearts until will see him again.

Michael J. Bennett

Associate Vice President, St. Petersburg College

NJASFAA and EASFAA Past President, Past National Chair of NASFAA

Honored Friend of Joe Roberto

NJASFAA Testifies Before the College Affordability Study Commission

Hello! Welcome to spring and yet another round of freshmen awarding.  As the NJASFAA team prepares for the Spring Conference, here’s a quick update of what’s been happening.

If you were fortunate to have attended the General Session regarding college affordability at the Fall Conference you know that a lively discussion was had and ideas exchanged between, Dr. Keating, Chair of the College Affordability Study Commission, Dr. Mercer, Commission member and President of Ramapo College and NJASFAA attendees. Following that session, the NJASFAA Government Relations Committee (GRC) was pleased to receive an invitation to testify and share thoughts regarding how to improve affordability for NJ students and their families. On March 16th, Cynthia Montalvo, Wil Casaine, Stephanie Fitzsimmons and the GRC responded to that invitation and testified at the State House before the Commission. Several GRC committee members were in attendance; amongst them Mike Livio, Chair of the GRC and yours truly.

NJASFAA’s testimony highlighted the importance of continued stable funding for key programs like TAG and EOF which are the backbone of the State grant system and have played a major role in assisting NJ students to complete a degree. Also discussed were the need to streamline and simplify processing, funding for expansion of early financial aid awareness programs and increasing collaboration between the financial aid community and school counselors as early as middle school. NJASFAA also encouraged state funding for dual degree programs and year round TAG awards. Key moments of the hearing included an exchange regarding the elimination of the additional State questions that are required to determine TAG eligibility and a question regarding what one item would impact financial aid administration most. Stephanie Fitzsimmons did a phenomenal job putting in perspective for attendees and Commission members how increases in regulations over the past 40 years have changed financial aid operations for her and others who are assisting families.

As the Commission prepares to finalize its report and recommendations to the Legislature this fall, we encourage NJASFAA members to stay informed of proposals and actively participate in the legislative process.