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Top educators come to 'Rethink Student Aid'


Robert Birgeneau

  • March 6, 2009

Unless the financial aid system is dramatically simplified and updated to meet students' needs, it will not support the bold goal set by President Barack Obama to regain America's global leadership in the number of college graduates by 2020.

That warning will be the refrain for college administrators, policymakers, students and advocates who gather at 10 a.m. March 9 in the New University Union on the Hayward Campus of California State University, East Bay, 25800 Carlos Bee Blvd. Students, local educators and counselors, and the public are invited and urged to attend. Admission is free.

Sponsored by the College Board and The California State University system, the group will join forces for a roundtable discussion on the nation's broken financial aid system, which impedes the nation's ability to provide the education and training that young people and adults need to achieve success and help engineer a sustained economic recovery.

"We simply can't afford to keep the system we have," said Michael McPherson, president of the Spencer Foundation. "To pull out of the current economic crisis, America needs a wholly updated, simpler financial aid system that puts students first and achieves more for every precious tax dollar spent." McPherson also is co-chair of the Rethinking Student Aid study group, an independent team of policy experts, researchers and higher education professionals convened by the College Board.

McPherson will present an overview of the study group's recommendations. Some of the group's approaches are reflected in President Obama's budget recommendations - a clear sign of the growing public and political desire for change.

F. King Alexander

Allison Jones, assistant vice chancellor for academic affairs with The California State University Chancellor's Office, will moderate the roundtable discussion. Jones, along with F. King Alexander, president of California State University, Long Beach; and Robert J. Birgeneau, chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley; will speak about how a more predictable, reliable, clear and easy-to-use financial aid system would make college possible for millions more students.

Susan Murphy, roundtable participant and director of enrollment and financial services at the University of San Francisco, witnesses daily the barriers students face.

"If financial aid is to contribute to achieving President Obama's goal of opening the doors of college to millions of students from all walks of life, we must examine the process and the programs and amend them to ensure that they do not discourage access," Murphy said. "The study group's recommendations emphasize the importance of a simple application process, clear and direct communication, and streamlined aid programs to students and their families."

From her perspective, Shannon Sakamoto, a college and career counselor at Lincoln High School in San Jose, said that enacting the recommendations from the Rethinking Student Aid study group would encourage her students to plan for college graduation.

"Many families have this notion that college is going to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars; and it's just not possible for us to send our students to college ... the reality is different. If families could see what it would really cost, it would help," Sakamoto said, explaining that dispelling myths is part of the challenge.
"If families received financial aid and cost information, as a reminder, when they get their tax statements, it would make a difference," she said.

Other California education leaders who will speak at the roundtable discussion include Timothy P. Bonnel, student financial aid coordinator at the California Community Colleges System Office, and Kim Mazzuca, president of the Marin Education Fund. The student perspective will be represented by Latoya M. Lea, a student at California State University, East Bay, and Elena Gil, a first-generation college graduate and Hispanic Scholarship Fund alumna.

To view the full report by the Rethinking Student Aid study group, visit

The College Board

The College Board is a not-for-profit membership association whose mission is to connect students to college success and opportunity. Founded in 1900, the College Board is composed of more than 5,600 schools, colleges, universities and other educational organizations. Each year, the College Board serves seven million students and their parents, 23,000 high schools, and 3,800 colleges through major programs and services in college readiness, college admissions, guidance, assessment, financial aid, enrollment, and teaching and learning. Among its best-known programs are the SAT®, the PSAT/NMSQT® and the Advanced Placement Program® (AP®). The College Board is committed to the principles of excellence and equity, and that commitment is embodied in all of its programs, services, activities and concerns.


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