Purdue Profiles: John Higgins

February 12, 2013  

John Higgins

John Higgins, assistant comptroller and bursar. (Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)
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To John Higgins, spending time as a member of various national organizations sharing students' and his University's perspectives about student finances is not volunteering -- it's part of his job.

As assistant comptroller and bursar, Higgins has spent time working to ensure that the entities making rules that affect university business offices understand the effect of those rules' requirements and nuances.

How did you get involved in the national conversation on higher education regulation?

As a member of the National Association of Colleges and University Business Officers (NACUBO), I began working on national issues through my position here at Purdue beginning in 2009. At that time, NACUBO was involved in the U.S. Department of Education's large-scale effort to review and change the rules that affected universities through the Higher Education Opportunity Act. I worked on that initiative; the regulation negotiations which  I participating in with the department of education ran the gamut, but they were mostly concerned with financial aid, institutional reporting, how to engage students and parents, and safety issues on campus.

In all, there were 32 major rule categories that we looked at and eventually changed. I felt that my role was to make sure that the new regulations written were feasible from an operations perspective, and that they didn't involve technical changes or so much work on the parts of universities that costs increased for students.

How did your work with NACUBO progress?

In 2010, the negotiations work progressed into testifying before a congressional and U.S. Department of Education advisory committee about higher education regulations originating from the department, mostly related to financial aid.  My role was to represent the business office’s role in disbursement and management of financial aid. There were 10 of us who testified individually, and we voiced similar concerns regarding student aid rules and regulations.

Essentially, we talked about some of the more burdensome regulations on the record. We talked about the tangible effects that just one or two sentences can make -- just a few words can mean an entirely different and much more expensive process.  In general, the representatives who create these rules do so with the best of intentions -- but in reality, the regulation may not work as intended, or may it require additional efforts that were not considered when the regulation was introduced.  I believe the testimonies were well received; the advisory committee was very interested in hearing about the effect of regulations on day-to-day operations, with a special interest in how regulations impact students.

Last year, NACUBO established a council that reviews these types of regulatory issues, and I continue to participate in those efforts on this advisory council.

What other organizations do you participate in?

I'm on the executive board of the Association of American Universities Bursars, which is made up of student financial offices from large research institutions. It shares best practices within our areas.   I also serve on a client advisory board to TouchNet, which is Purdue's secure billing and payment gateway provider.  On that latter one, I try to help promote technology our end users -- students and their families -- believe is important.

Why do you think it's important to continue to participate in the national regulatory conversation?

Like any area of the university, our area has its issues to try to improve upon. In some instances, the issue is a regulatory requirement.  We can create a workaround, but that is not the most effective solution.  With my national work, I'm trying to get to the roots of the problem; so, I think it's my responsibility to try to be involved in that conversation.

I also think this type of work allows Purdue to take advantage of networks that are already in place. You learn a great deal from peers regarding their practices, and from staff within Purdue as you address individual issues.  Participating in these organizations really gives me good perspective on my role in national higher education. That's a very rewarding feeling.

Writer: Amanda Hamon, 49-61326, ahamon@purdue.edu

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