By BRIDGET DANVER
This summer, the Office of Financial Aid welcomed its new director Timothy Saulnier.
Saulnier moved to Virginia three years ago and was previously the financial aid director at the private University of Lynchburg. He said that although UMW is a public university, its small size makes it operate almost as a private institution. “What privates usually say [is] they try to offer small class sizes [and] a community that everyone knows who you are,” he said.
He said that despite their similarities, the colleges differ in terms of funding allocation. “There’s actually a lot more support from the state at a public institution,” Saulnier said.“The VGAP funds specifically geared to help the neediest of students, and to help offset some of those costs. Obviously, those funds are not unlimited, so the state does not provide us enough to all their students that have that need. And so we have to try and utilize them to the best of our ability.”
The chief priority of the financial aid department is to ensure it is in compliance with all federal and state regulations. For instance, all educational institutions are required to offer some type of program in recognition of Constitution Day, an annual holiday that commemorates the signing of the U.S. Constitution which is celebrated on Sep. 17.
Saulnier said he will not rush into making any drastic changes to the Office of Financial Aid. “I like to come in and observe,” he said. “If there’s some things that I can quickly make a change that I feel would really be beneficial to the office or university, I would of course make them. But I don’t like to say ‘I’m definitely coming in and making changes,’ because we could be doing some things really well.”
Saulnier emphasized two components that contribute to the quality of support students receive in the fiscal area: community outreach and financial literacy. Currently, the university is reaching out to high schools and aiding prospective students in completing their FAFSAs. According to Saulnier, students go through three phases of financial literacy: the end of high school, which starts the process of deciding which college to attend, attending the chosen college, and lastly the post-graduation stage.
“One of the things that I usually like to point out when I do a financial literacy presentation is that the number one target of identity theft is actually 18 to 29 year olds,” Saulnier said.
“The reason is, A – they are a little bit more lax with their information, they’re not thinking of that privacy yet as well as they’re not in a daily job mindset. You’re going to college, you’re thinking about studying, preparing for your tests and you’re not thinking did you check your credit card, your bank, to make sure your identity hasn’t been stolen. And B – usually the other big thing is learning to budget. And then have realistic aspirations of what your career might be after you graduate.”
His advice to students? “Try to budget to make sure you’re not borrowing more than you really need once you get to where you’re going for your job.”
Colette Fralen, a sophomore majoring in historic preservation said, “I think financial aid should make you feel more confident in your decision to go to a school and it shouldn’t leave you worried thinking ‘how am I going to pay this off.’” She also said, demonstrating Saulnier’s three phases to financial literacy, “I’m satisfied right now because I don’t have to pay it off until after I graduate. But after I graduate I’m going to have to.”
Sophomore graphic design major Mya Bundy said, “There are some financial aid offers that offer more than others. And if the student needs more help in one area, like dining or book expenses then that should be really promoted.”
Josie Vernick, a sophomore majoring in international affairs said, “In spite of receiving scholarships and other relevant information from the Financial Aid Office throughout the year, I don’t have a whole lot of experience knowing the department and its resources, so information sessions might help with greater outreach to the student body and its understanding of how to navigate the financial aid processes.”
Saulnier wanted to convey to the UMW community that the wellbeing of students is his top priority.
“Usually when I come to a new institution, one of my goals is to evaluate, really start to engage with the community leaders from faculty, staff and students. And sort of get an understanding of who UMW is, and then really try to push those things about community engagement, financial literacy and create a welcoming environment that is helpful to students.”