Patrick McTee loves to give away money. It's not that he's independently wealthy — he passes cash from other entities to worthy students at the University of Colorado Denver.
McTee has been the director of financial aid at UC Denver for just over four years. Before coming to Colorado, he was director of financial aid at the University of Missouri and the University of Nebraska. He is a Cornhusker alum, something he says he probably shouldn't admit, but is proud to have adopted Colorado as home.
During the 2008-09 year, 12,500 students at UC Denver received more than $186 million in financial aid that included grants, loans, scholarships and work-study. Those figures show a 17 percent increase in recipients, who come from all walks of life, and a 27 percent increase in money since the 2006-07 academic year.
Has the current economic crisis placed additional pressure on you or your staff?
Yes. We were already feeling pressure from the increase in recipients. But in addition, we've seen a 17 percent increase in the number of financial aid applications this year compared to last. We won't have actual recipient totals until the end of the school year, but we anticipate a significant increase in both recipients and dollars.
Is there a bright side to the recession, for instance, are students using scholarships more? Where does most of the financial aid come from and is all of the money awarded every year?
We don't have statistics on scholarship applications since that's a very decentralized process at UC Denver. However, the amount of funds available from endowed scholarships has dropped slightly due to the economy. I think the only bright side is that more people are furthering their education as a result of unemployment. The community colleges have seen huge enrollment increases and we also have seen moderate increases.
The vast majority of funding comes from the federal government, with lesser amounts from state, institutional and private sources. Federal aid has increased a great deal lately, but the majority of it is in the form of loans. State and institutional aid has also increased but to a lesser degree. They provide primarily grant funds, however, so that's important for our lowest-income students. All sources of gift aid are awarded each year and there are many students who are eligible but not able to be funded. Those who aren't funded are then faced with the prospect of having to take higher amounts of loan assistance to pay for school.
What do you do away from your job?
I'd have to say that my No. 1 guilty pleasure is to travel. I love to get away, whether it be for a long weekend or a bigger adventure. I'm fortunate enough to have friends in many areas of the U.S. so that makes for great weekend trips. I do like any trip that involves beach time. That's my version of a relaxing vacation. However, I also enjoy visiting new cities and countries just as much. The one place that is on the top of my "must visit" list is Machu Picchu. It's always intrigued me and someday I hope to explore it.
Do you interact with students who are applying or who have received loans?
My favorite anecdote about a student is one that happened at a previous institution. I had just started working there and was walking by the front counter and saw a student waiting. I asked if I could help him and he requested to see the previous director (who was no longer at the institution). When I explained that to him, he proceeded to ask, "Well then, just who is the head toad around here now?" Biting my tongue, I told him it was me and proceeded to take care of his questions. Unfortunately, several coworkers had overheard the conversation, and from there on out, I was cheerfully considered not to be the director, but the head toad.
What do you like most/least about your profession?
My job is to help make dreams come true. I borrowed that slogan from a student loan corporation, but I believe it clearly states what financial aid professionals and other staff in educational institutions do. Of course there are the other parts of the job, like compliance with federal and state regulations, equitably distributing scarce financial aid funds, balancing accounts and the like. But I'm fortunate enough to have an excellent staff to help with all of that. (I wish I would) never have to say "no" to a qualified student. It's really unfortunate that there aren't enough grant and scholarship funds available to enable us to keep student borrowing to a minimum for all students.
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