Editor’s Note: The following is a feature from the USA Funds® 2012 annual report. USA Funds Higher Education Success News is highlighting stories from the annual report to show how USA Funds is helping colleges and universities enhance student access to and success in higher education. View a video supplement to this article.
Sharon Abernathy began working with USA Funds in 1999, when it was an affiliate of USA Group and she directed a staff of six in the Columbia College
Abernathy now directs a staff of 23 within Columbia College’s larger student services operation. But she still relies on USA Funds’ training to keep herself — and the rest of the financial aid staff — up to speed on the federal regulations that govern student assistance.
“For true nuts and bolts training,” says Abernathy, director of financial aid at the Columbia, Mo., school, “we really rely on USA Funds.”
USA Funds University financial aid training offers in-person workshops each fall and spring, webcasts that cover information from those workshops and other topics of interest, online courses, customized training, and the USA Funds Ask PolicySM
resource for answers to specific questions.
Abernathy and her staff have taken advantage of all of the USA Funds University training opportunities, with each of the tools and solutions serving a specific purpose in the financial aid office’s work.
For new staff, USA Funds University’s online training provides a foundation of federal financial aid information. The half-day in-person training offers Columbia College staff a nearby opportunity to get the latest financial aid information. And USA Funds Ask Policy provides quick answers when a regulatory question has Abernathy or others in her office stumped.
“We have found USA Funds University to be reliable and accurate,” Abernathy says. “The information is easily understood, very well done, and available to a wide range of our staff.”
The broad accessibility and variety of training options from USA Funds University are important to the Columbia College financial aid staff members. The main location of Columbia College is a private liberal arts college offering day and evening classes in Columbia — but the school also has 34 campuses that cater to working adults, including military personnel and their families across the nation. The total number of students attending on-site classes is more than 11,000.
Columbia College also offers online courses to more than 14,000 students.
And at Columbia College, financial aid services are split into those related to processing and those focused on customer service — with the customer service staff also helping other student services employees stay up to date on financial aid regulations. Abernathy, whose job focuses on financial aid processing, says the USA Funds University training is thorough enough to assist her as she tackles specific federal regulatory issues.
“USA Funds University training gives me confidence that we have covered almost every single regulation that has come out,” says Abernathy.
The training also is easily digestible, she says. So her customer service employees rely on USA Funds University training for those whose jobs require more-general knowledge of federal regulations. Susan Nodine is a senior manager who oversees client services at Columbia College and relies on USA Funds University.
“USA Funds University workshops are my favorite training,” Nodine says. “The trainers figure out the areas of the regulations that we are going to need to know and those that might be confusing for students, and they provide clear information about those regulations.”
Nodine directs new employees to take online courses and then to supplement that information by taking part in additional USA Funds University training.
Such wide use of USA Funds University’s services helps assure Abernathy that she’s meeting her training goal: offering as many professional development opportunities as possible.
“USA Funds University is a huge component of Columbia College’s training,” she says. “We are really happy with the staff people involved in the training, and I can’t say enough about the folks at USA Funds. They’re never too busy to reach out to us.”