By Jeff von Munkwitz-Smith
Tina Falkner is the Director of the Office of Student Finance for Academic Support Resources (a large unit comprised of the Office of the Registrar, the Office of Student Finance, the Office of Classroom Management, One Stop Student Services, Continuity and Compliance, and an internal web development team) at the University of Minnesota. Prior to her current position, she served as the director of Continuity and Compliance in Academic Support Resources for fifteen years where one of her primary responsibilities was policy creation, revision, interpretation, and enforcement. She is the institutional and national expert on the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and other student records compliance-related matters. As the director of the Office of Student Finance, she oversees financial aid, student billing, collections, bursar, and other student financials. Prior to joining the academic affairs side of the house, Tina served in student activities. She was the 2018-19 President of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO). Tina holds a B.A. from Northwestern University and a M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota.
How did you first get involved with AACRAO?
My first AACRAO involvement was when the 2002 Annual Meeting was held in Minneapolis; I helped with volunteers. I was able to attend the 2001 meeting in Seattle to help staff the hospitality booth for Minneapolis. We spent a lot of time at the booth, talking up Minneapolis and encouraging attendees to mark their calendars for the 2002 meeting. We did have many questions about snow and cold, so it was quite amusing when that next year it was nearly 90 degrees during the meeting. Most people brought heavy winter clothes and had to buy more weather-appropriate items as the week progressed.
What volunteer roles did you have with AACRAO before becoming President?
I have been a member of a Professional Activities Committee (PAC), a PAC chair, a group coordinator for the Annual Meeting, the Annual Meeting Vice Chair and Chair, Chair-elect and chair of Nominations and Elections, a session facilitator, a session presenter, Vice President for Records and Academic services, and an author.
What do you see yourself doing with AACRAO after your term as Past President?
I would like to continue to help bring better cross-awareness to our membership and members of other associations, especially financial aid. I have often reflected over the past four years working in financial aid how truly intertwined records and financial aid work are, and for too long we have both considered the other as an afterthought. I think if we had more opportunities to understand each other’s compliance requirements, constraints, shared points of service to students, and the impact we can have on student success when we work together it would benefit our students.
We have made some good progress, but there is lots more to do. If I had the chance, I would really like to participate in AACRAO’s public policy work. I’ve become a sort of education public policy junkie and am excited that we are sharing our positions more vocally and readily with members of Congress and the Department of Education. But I’m pretty much game for doing anything that the Association and our members need. I like volunteering because it helps me grow and gives me a chance to share what I know with others.
How has your work with AACRAO connected with your daily work at the institution(s) over the years?
My work with AACRAO has always connected well with my work on campus. I regularly “exercise my FERPA muscles” at the University and help educate others on campus about their FERPA obligations. In my current role in financial aid, I see even more connections with the AACRAO portfolio. Over the past four years, I have often found myself wishing I could go back in time and know what I know now when I was working on policy matters, calendars, and course-set up. For example, when I oversaw the University of Minnesota’s academic policies, I never thought about whether there were financial aid implications associated with academic policy changes. The one that specifically comes to mind is our repeat policy before we started enforcing it in our student system – financial aid states it can only pay for a class twice (unless the student truly fails it multiple times, but that is a completely different story).
What were the AACRAO accomplishments while you served as President of which you are the proudest?
The easy answer is the purchase of a new staff office building, but I am also really proud of our focus on expanding the notion of leadership and who is a leader in the Association. I’m really excited to see the impact of the LEAD Initiative. I see the LEAD Initiative as a good starting point for us to address pressing issues facing our profession, specifically diversifying leadership in strategic enrollment management (SEM). We are actively working to address the problem, instead of just lamenting about it. I’m encouraged to see that we are approaching this topic with more than establishing mentor relationships but with a curriculum to assist up-and-coming SEM professionals gain valuable, tangible skills. If the model works, which I am optimistic it will, we can apply the framework to other areas within AACRAO’s portfolio.
What will the new AACRAO office space mean to the association?
Easily the biggest impact of purchasing the office space is financial stability. Establishing a solid financial footing for the coming years, has been a Board priority for years, and this helps solidify that. I think it also allowed the office a way to rethink which teams need to be near each other, how to better facilitate communication among and between teams, and to examine how work gets done. For example, the floor plans were specifically designed with huddle-spaces so teams could work on projects together if desired. Also, different team members’ offices were co-located to facilitate their work together – it may seem silly but in the old space that wasn’t always the case.
What do you see as the biggest challenges and opportunities for the incoming President and Board?
AACRAO is not alone in trying to figure out how to engage younger members of the profession in its offerings and in leadership. We also need to continue to be intentionally inclusive in all that we do. This is not an easy task, nor one that you ever actually complete, but always needs to be at the forefront of the work we do.
Jeff von Munkwitz-Smith, Ph.D., is Editor-in-Chief of College & University and a past president of AACRAO. He has more than 40 years of higher education experience in University Registrar functions, enrollment management, and as a faculty member. Dr. von Munkwitz-Smith retired from Boston University as Assistant Vice President and University Registrar. He previously served as University Registrar and Director of Summer Programs at the University of Connecticut and in a variety of positions at the University of Minnesota.
Dr. von Munkwitz-Smith has served on the Board of Directors of the College and University Machine Records Conference (CUMREC), the Program Committee for the first Educause conference, and on the Educause Professional Development Committee. He was Director of the AACRAO Technology Conference and chaired the AACRAO working group on professional competencies and proficiencies. He has been a frequent presenter on technology in student services, retention and graduation, FERPA, and space planning and management. He has been published in Business Officer, College and University, and Educause Quarterly.
Dr. von Munkwitz-Smith holds a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy and Religious Studies from Macalester College and a Doctor of Philosophy in South Asian Languages from the University of Minnesota.