Kelly Long, vice provost for undergraduate affairs, presents the first Student Success Superstar Award to Tom Biedscheid, director of the Office of Financial Aid.Photo by William A. Cotton, CSU Photography
At the core of Colorado State University’s nationally recognized Student Success Initiatives is a closer alignment of academic and non-academic experiences. Students who are supported outside the classroom tend to do better in their course work; a wide range of programs, such as living-learning communities, advising through Academic Success Coordinators, and emphasis on high-impact practices, have developed to support students through graduation.
CSU President Tony Frank has said that every employee on campus has a role in supporting student success. How does that look for those areas of the University not directly focused on either curricular or co-curricular activities? Areas like the Office of Financial Aid, for example?
About $340 million flows through the office every year – roughly equal to the University’s annual research expenditures – which puts it in a position to have an incredible impact on students’ CSU experience, according to Director Tom Biesdcheid. With such importance comes great responsibility.
“Our office is extremely intentional about seeing that this money gets to the students who need it the most,” he said. “That’s where we can make a difference in the Student Success Initiatives.”
For his commitment to and advocacy for students at CSU, Biedscheid has been named the inaugural Student Success Superstar. The award, sponsored by the Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President, recognizes individuals, teams or units who have done something extraordinary to support student success at CSU, singularly having a profound impact on the academic well-being of a student or students.
Biedscheid received the award on Nov. 6, and said he was totally surprised by the honor.
“It’s an entire office effort, and it is so humbling when you are called out for such an award,” said Biedscheid, who has been with CSU in financial aid for 18 years. “There are 44 of us doing the work. We’ve always had a strong focus on access, on getting students into CSU; with SSI we are investing heavily to eliminate financial barriers to encourage them to stay and complete their education.”
He points out that if just 45 more students graduate from CSU each year, that would raise the graduation rate a full percentage point from the already record high of 71 percent in six years – a step toward Frank’s goal of 80 percent for the class entering in 2020.
“We talk about ‘our 45;’ some people in the office even have their own 45,” Biedscheid said, adding that no one told them to do it. “It’s just the right thing to do. It helps us do our work without losing the student perspective.”
Biedscheid’s student focus is widely known and respected across campus. In his nomination, Ryan Barone, assistant vice president for student success, cited Biedscheid’s visionary leadership of the office as well as countless creative accommodations to help individual students overcome financial challenges.
“From hiring, strategic planning, aid allocation, and leveraging aid as a retention and completion strategy, Tom embodies the spirit of the student success initiatives quintessentially,” he wrote. “This student-centered focus, and willingness to employ actions focused on equity and not just equality, position Tom Biedscheid as the perfect inaugural recipient of the Student Success Superstar Award at Colorado State University.”
Kelly Long, vice provost for undergraduate affairs, whose office created the award, agreed.
“Tom thinks creatively about ways to remedy problems that students confront in the realm of finances,” she said. “He uses wisdom and deep personal compassion to make things happen for students and their families. He exemplifies the spirit of student success as he guides others in their decision making.”
In support of the nomination, people across campus shared stories illustrating Biedscheid’s student-centeredness.
Blanche Hughes, vice president for student affairs, regularly refers students thinking about leaving CSU to Biedscheid, telling them if there is anything the University can do to assist them, he is the person who can make it happen. “There are so many students who are currently at CSU and have graduated from CSU because of Tom,” she said. “Tom is not only a ‘superstar,’ he is a ‘guardian angel’ for so many of our students, families and the University.”
Leslie Taylor, vice president for enrollment and access, added that Biedscheid’s contributions on the technical side of aid awarding should not be overlooked.
“Tom’s commitment to student success has led to in-depth analysis of students’ true ability to pay,” she said. “By taking the time to analyze our student data over a number of years, Tom has developed an institutional methodology for need verification that assures that grant aid ends up with the students that need it most. And that has had significant impact on the number of dollars available to our students.”
SSI 2 underway
As the Student Success Initiatives move into the next phase, which calls for elimination of all gaps in graduation rates for low-income, first-generation and underrepresented student populations, Biedscheid said his office is in a good place. He’s looking forward to the upcoming third annual financial aid conference for campus partners, to strengthen relationships that can help students succeed.
One focus of the office in the coming months will be on the persistence of first-generation students – those who are the first in their families to earn a bachelor’s degree – from their second to third year at CSU.
“Institutional research shows that a number of first-gen students are stopping out after their sophomore year,” Biedscheid said. “We want to take a deeper look at why. If they are leaving because they have a lower GPA and need more credits to graduate, maybe it’s not a financial issue. But if they aren’t taking the needed credits or aren’t doing well because they have to work so much to pay for the credits they are taking, then it is a financial issue. If it is, that’s where we can do some work.”
And that’s why Tom Biedscheid is a Superstar.