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Alethia Shipman was recently appointed as director of student financial aid at George Mason University. Shipman, who has been with Mason for more than a year serving as associate director of financial aid, assumes the position following the retirement of Sandy Tarbox.
“Alethia assumes this new role with a breadth of financial aid experience across a number of institutional types,” said David Burge, vice president for enrollment management. “She’s worked as a financial aid advisor, a certifying official, an analyst, and as an associate director at two different institutions. Words that consistently come up to describe her are thorough, approachable, knowledgeable, and full of positive energy.”
Previous roles provided Shipman with hands-on experiences throughout multiple layers of financial aid and afforded her the opportunity to use technical, analytical, and customer service skills in a leadership capacity, enhancing her approach to managing staff from diverse backgrounds. She plans to use her knowledge, passion, and expertise to make a difference in students’ lives.
“My favorite part of working with students is knowing that I played a part in reaching their goals by assisting them throughout their educational journey through counseling, mentoring, or educating them along the way,” Shipman said.
Those skills will undoubtedly assist the entire Office of Student Financial Aid as big changes are coming. In 2020, Congress passed legislation to simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application while also adjusting the formula to determine who will qualify for aid and how much they will receive. As FAFSA alters focus from cash flow to a slightly greater emphasis on wealth, this shift translates into a fairer treatment across the board but could mean decreases in aid eligibility for middle- and high-income families.
Since these developments could result in fear or reluctance for applicants, Shipman knows that communication is key and plans to visit local high schools as well as hold workshops and open forums for students and families to help navigate the FAFSA changes.
“Because the changes can be overwhelming, it will be important to provide FAFSA workshops to assist with completing the application,” she said. “Having open forums for students and families to have all of their questions answered will have a positive impact.”
Beyond FAFSA, Shipman knows that repaying student loans is just as much of a priority for recent graduates as securing a job. She also knows that financial literacy education—understanding financial concepts such as interest rates, student loans, credit scores, budgeting, and how personal finances work—is the best way to help new and current students understand how to wisely manage their personal resources, especially when it comes to spending on their education.
“It is important to provide financial literacy resources to students,” she said, emphasizing the need to provide financial aid counseling to help students understand the options available to them.
Having a college degree increases job opportunities and career stability, and Shipman knows that financial aid plays a strong role in allowing students that opportunity. Moving forward in her new role, Shipman will no doubt have a big impact on the student population by providing outstanding student financial aid service and choice.