Collars dollars for college aid

Betsy Johnson knows a small investment in time can pay off big when it comes to financial aid for
"The ‘secret’ is to apply. It is amazing how many don’t take the time," said Johnson, director
of financial aid at Owens Community College since 2002 and on the Owens staff since 2000.
Johnson and her staff have had more than a little success getting the message across at Owens. Last year
students at Owens campuses in Perrysburg Township and Findlay received more than $80 million in
financial aid, twice as much as five years ago.
"Federal aid, grants and scholarships, there are so many possibilities," she said.
Johnson takes her "apply" message to college nights at high schools, libraries and other
special events. She said where a person wants to go to college isn’t as important as having the
information to make it happen. Among the activities in which she participates is College Goal Sunday.
The event is the Sunday after the Super Bowl. Last February there were 40 such sites around Ohio.
Johnson recently completed a term as president of the Ohio Association of Student Financial Aid
She has worked to personalize the financial aid office at Owens, replacing a long counter, where anyone
could overhear anyone else’s business, with cubicles that provide a private and more relaxing
atmosphere. To reduce waiting during peak times and let students take care of other college business,
pagers are handed out.
"It is more efficient and it takes away the anxiety that ‘I have to hurry because of that long
line.’ We can give full attention," Johnson said.
The pager idea was something a staffer brought back from a seminar.
"Betsy is low key but she is a huge advocate for higher education. She has a real passion for her
work," Dr. Bill Ivoska, vice president of student services at Owens, said.
"She’s a great innovator with technology. She put the FASFA (financial aid) application on the Web
and students can get all of that done online. She has used technology to make a high-volume place as
easy to use as possible," he said.
"Eight a.m. is a good time to get here. I think the idea (pagers) has done wonders," Johnson
said. "People don’t lose their spot in line and people like sitting down. It’s a more personable
relationship," Johnson said.
She thinks some people are afraid of the financial aid paperwork because it reminds them of an income tax
return. "It’s not exciting and the form scares people. We provide friendly customer service and do
outreach to high schools. We want to give people the opportunity to have access to higher education and
take the fear and anxiety out of it. It helps to put the focus on the classwork," Johnson said.
Owens students can use their online accounts to keep track of all kinds of school-related records,
similar to the way others handle online banking. The office also uses e-mails and still relies on the
regular mail to send out an annual letter as a reminder to keep paperwork up-to-date and plan ahead for
the next school year.
"We do run out of some financial aid (programs), so students have to take the time to keep updated.
When it comes to people looking for scholarships, I always say never spend more than a postage stamp.
Don’t pay those $1,500 fees for someone to find you a scholarship," Johnson said.
She will be attending her first high school program of the season next week. "I like to talk about
the big picture of financial aid. I won’t have on a school hat that day. The goal is to get people ready
to apply for financial aid," she said. "High school nights are one of my favorite things to
Ivoska calls Johnson "a role model for what an educational professional ought to be."