Varo Duffins begins first semester as director of financial aid

Varo Duffins-Ian Holloway
Photo by Ian Holloway

Shortly before the end of last semester, Vice President for Finance and Administration Greg Brown announced that Varo L. Duffins would replace Laura Talbot as the college’s new director of financial aid, starting in the spring of 2015. Duffins comes from Franklin & Marshall College, with more than 20 years of experience in college admissions and financial aid.

The college’s search for the new director of financial aid began in August of 2014 with an online job posting on the Brill Neumann firm’s website. This is the first time the college has partnered with Brill Neumann for administrator selection.

“The ideal candidate we sought as our next director of financial aid was someone who would focus on an accessible, informative, and friendly, student and family experience with the financial aid office. We were looking for someone who was innovative and collaborative, with excellent strategic leadership, management, communication and team-building skills,” said Associate Vice President for Finance and Treasurer Eileen Petula.

Search firms like Brill Neumann have access to an extensive national network of leaders at universities and non-profit organizations, from which they can identify qualified candidates for clients. These search firms offer the added benefit of relative anonymity to candidates during the initial phases of a search.

In keeping with the recommendations in Swarthmore’s 2011 policy roadmap, “Strategic Directions,” the college stressed in the job posting that candidates must be innovative in order to increase economic diversity in the student body. Additionally, the posting stated that the director must conduct student and parent outreach. This outreach would consist of information about money management and how to apply for aid. The director is also expected to partner with the Admissions Office to develop print and online information about financial aid and communicate regularly with the members of the college community.

Duffins said he was attracted to Swarthmore’s Quaker principles and the opportunity to work at an institution whose values closely aligned with his own.

“Both the school and the position, in my mind, looked very much like the next obvious move for me to make. And when I was invited to apply for the position, I did so without hesitation,” Varo said.

During his time at F&M, Varo fulfilled a diverse set of responsibilities in financial aid, which included work with federal policies, student campus employment, and strategic planning. He also contributed to publicity of aid by helping create F&M’s net price calculator, and helping to create the financial aid website. Varo believes that his familiarity with the variety of functions in a financial aid office will help him better perform his role as director at Swarthmore.

“In my former role I played a lot of different instruments. In this role I’m more of the conductor, making sure that the orchestra sounds good,” Varo said. “The traditional director role in offices is a matter of being able to understand how all the instruments are supposed to sound and work together.”

In addition to his work in finanical aid, Duffins spent nearly a decade working in admissions. He believes that questions of admission and cost often go hand in hand, and hopes that increased collaboration between Admissions and Financial Aid will better equip the college to admit more qualified students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

Duffins said he hopes to create noticeable changes in the way that parents and students with questions about financial aid will be reached and served more effectively.

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