& A with David Belanger
Earlier this year,
amid the widespread economic downturn, David Belanger
was appointed director of Smith’s
Student Financial Services (SFS). While the timing presented
obvious challenges, Belanger was already familiar with
the office, having served as associate director under Deb
Leukens. Before coming to Smith, Belanger served as assistant
director of financial aid at Plymouth State College and
Dartmouth College. He spoke recently with the Gate about
his new post and Smith financial aid.
drew you to this field?
David Belanger: Helping families make higher
education possible. I had been working
in the banking industry and enjoyed it very much. I then
learned that the financial aid industry had many of the same
financial connections as the banking industry. It also added
a level of financial counseling that is very much unique
to higher education. This seemed like the perfect fit for
me. That was 13 years ago and I haven't looked back
Gate: Can you describe the purview
of Smith Student Financial Services?
DB: The SFS Office is all about helping
students and families make Smith a reality. We provide assistance
in the following areas: Financial Aid Nights and information
sessions; counseling students and families on the financial
aid process; using financial aid formulas to determine the
family's ability to pay for higher education; distributing
financial aid in an equitable manner to those demonstrating
financial need; counseling students and families as it relates
to their individual financial aid awards; helping families
choose the right path if they will be financing all or a
portion of the educational costs; overseeing the complex
functions of the student employment program across campus
and in the surrounding communities; processing all payments
made to student accounts; loan counseling; monthly billing
for student accounts; working with outside agencies to process
payments and scholarship checks.
Gate: From your perspective as
director, what type of approach or philosophy does SFS take
to giving financial aid?
DB: It is a strong commitment that Smith
College makes to meet the full demonstrated financial need
of all its students that have met the financial aid deadlines.
As a director, it is important for me to be able to offer
families a financial aid award that makes it possible to
attend Smith no matter what their financial circumstances.
Gate: What percentage or number
of Smith students receive financial aid?
DB: For the academic year 2007-2008, Smith
awarded over $41 million dollars in grant assistance to approximately
65 percent of the undergraduate student population. The SFS
Office also processed another $4 million in grant aid that
came from federal and state agencies.
Gate: Do we expect to be able
to maintain that statistic going forward?
DB: It is the commitment of Smith College
to meet the full demonstrated need of the families eligible
for financial aid. We recently had our financial aid budget
approved for next year and it does account for the difficulties
Smith families are facing due to the difficult economic times.
Gate: What impact is the current
economy having on services provided by your office?
DB: Our office is seeing financial aid review requests at
a higher rate than previous years. It is our responsibility to address each
review individually and determine whether Smith might be able to assist the
family given the current situation they are in. Many Smith families are being
affected by this economy and we will work with them as best we can.
Gate: What strategies might you
bring to the SFS directorship to deal with realities of the
is important for the entire SFS staff to understand the
difficulties that families are facing right now. Smith's
commitment to meet the full need of the family will be
an important part of getting through this difficult financial
period. Counseling families on the financing options available
to them will be especially important as we go into the
next several years. Financing a college education should
be viewed as a long-term investment and our office will
be there to guide families through this process. There
is no telling how long this recession will last, but it
will be the focus of our office to help one family at a
time, one year at a time.
Gate: What are some ways students
can help themselves in the financial aid process?
DB: Complete the financial aid application
by the stated deadlines. I can't stress this enough. Having
a complete financial aid application allows our office adequate
time to review the situation and make a financial aid determination.
This, in turn, allows the family to know what their expectation
would be and plan accordingly. It is our hope
that students return in September without having to worry
about how to pay the bill.
Stay informed in the financial aid process. Know the deadlines
and submit all the necessary documentation. Navigating the
world of financial aid can sometimes be confusing and that
is why we encourage students and families to ask questions.