NASFAA Releases Paper of Inaugural "Big Idea" Policy Proposal Competition Winner

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Mark Szymanoski's "Student Aid Modernization Initiative" Aims Make the Federal Financial Aid Awarding Process Simpler, More Flexible

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“We applaud Mark for developing an idea that aims to change our student aid system in a way that could increase accountability and simplicity," said NASFAA President Justin Draeger.

The reauthorization of the Higher Education Act is looming, and with it comes an opportunity to make changes to ensure our federal financial aid system is as precise, efficient, and effective as possible at helping those it was designed to serve. The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA), at its 2015 National Conference in New Orleans, invited a small group of passionate thinkers to participate in “The Big Idea: NASFAA’s Policy Challenge,” a reality show-style event where financial aid administrators, researchers and other interested stakeholders were given the chance to present their innovative policy ideas to reform and improve federal student aid programs and policies to a broad audience of financial aid practitioners and policymakers.

In a new white paper published by NASFAA, Big Idea Challenge winner Mark Szymanoski, regulatory affairs manager for DeVry Education Group, explains how the "Student Aid Modernization Initiative" (SAMI) would work within the current federal student aid infrastructure. Under SAMI, a student’s federal financial aid award would be linked directly with their educational progress, ensuring proportional distribution of financial aid as a student moves through their academic program.

The approach, the discussion paper explains, would streamline the financial aid process because students would complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) just once, at the beginning of their academic program, and would then be awarded financial aid for the entire length of their program. In addition to supporting traditional college goers, SAMI would better support “nontraditional” students because it would result in predictable and appropriate award amounts, making it easier than ever before for students to plan financially for the long-term, the paper says.

The paper also explores the anticipated policy implications and calls on legislators to consider SAMI as a potential cornerstone of the Higher Education Act. Of the policy implications discussed, two are listed that could have a particularly significant and far-reaching impact for students:
SAMI may create an increased incentive for institutions to “lock-in” tuition rates for continuing students; and
under SAMI, excessive loan debt will be more difficult to incur.

“We were pleased to be able to offer a forum to allow our members to put forward innovative and discussion-worthy student aid policy ideas,” said NASFAA President Justin Draeger. “We applaud Mark for developing an idea that aims to change our student aid system in a way that could increase accountability and simplicity. No doubt it will generate significant discussion throughout our membership as the idea is fully vetted.”

Szymanoski will lead a session Monday, July 11, 2016 from 9:45 AM-10:45 AM at the 2016 NASFAA National Conference in Washington, DC. The session will describe SAMI in greater detail, discuss potential policy and political considerations, and explore how SAMI would work in practice. To request a complimentary media registration to the national conference, or to speak to a NASFAA expert about this initiative, as well as other steps policymakers can take to make the process simpler in the future, please email us at news(at)nasfaa(dot)org or call 202-785-6959.


The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) is a nonprofit membership organization that represents more than 20,000 financial aid professionals at nearly 3,000 colleges, universities, and career schools across the country. NASFAA member institutions serve nine out of every ten undergraduates in the United States. Based in Washington, D.C., NASFAA is the only national association with a primary focus on student aid legislation, regulatory analysis, and training for financial aid administrators. For more information, visit

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