Position Description

Whitman College seeks an innovative leader to join the leadership of a high-performing and collaborative admission, communications, and financial-aid team. Reporting to the interim vice president for admission and financial aid, the director will be responsible for the overall management and administration of all student financial aid as well as the operation of the Financial Aid Office (FAO). The director of financial aid is a strategic partner in meeting the college’s admission and retention goals, leading a staff, and partnering with colleagues across the college. The director is responsible for the awarding and disbursement of annual financial-aid expenditures, a comprehensive aid budget of approximately $40 million. Supervising a staff of three, who provide service for financial aid applicants, the director will hire, train, and provide professional-development opportunities and mentoring to all financial-aid staff members.

The director must be a relentless advocate for Whitman College students, a strategic enrollment-management thinker and contributor, an expert in administering federal, state, and institutional financial aid programs, and an innovator who is motivated to bring new approaches, technologies, and communications tactics to the financial aid realm. Specifically, the director will be expected to:

  • analyze and interpret federal and state legislation relative to financial-aid functions, and oversee the implementation of new regulatory requirements;
  • ensure that all federally mandated requirements are performed as stipulated;
  • provide individual, student-centered counseling services to students and families;
  • ensure fiscal accountability in fund management, disbursement, and recovery by coordinating technology and the Ellucian Colleague enterprise systems for effective administration of student-aid funds, and ensure that the system is used effectively, processes are kept up-to-date, and product enhancements are developed;
  • lead and collaborate with campus partners in the college’s diversity, equity, and inclusion work, with a focus on DEI-related financial aid initiatives;
  • contribute to the development of both need- and merit-based financial-aid awarding and packaging policies alongside the admission, communication, and financial-aid leadership team and the college’s enrollment-analytics partner, with an eye toward using advanced predictive analytics to leverage financial aid for the college’s enrollment management and access goals;
  • collaborate with campus colleagues to ensure student retention in cases where financial needs may be a barrier;
  • collaborate with colleagues across the college to encourage fair and equitable administration of, and access to, work-study job opportunities for students; and
  • create an office culture that values innovation, collaboration, accountability, and data-informed decision-making.

The Position

History of the Position

Marilyn Ponti, the former director of financial aid, served in this position for over 20 years and retired in July of 2021. Oversight of the department is being led by Adam Miller, interim vice president of admission and financial aid.

In 2019, Whitman College launched an innovative new financial aid tool for prospective students. Whitman’s Early Financial Aid Guarantee lets students and families see how much money in scholarships and financial aid they’ll be awarded from Whitman if they are admitted, before they even apply. Whitman was featured in The New York Times as one of the only colleges in the country with this type of guarantee. Whitman College was named one of the “2021 Best Value Colleges” by The Princeton Review and is regularly recognized by Forbes Magazine and Kiplinger’s Personal Finance for academic quality and affordability.

Likely Opportunities, Priorities, and Challenges of the Position

For many years, the Financial Aid Office (FAO) at Whitman has maintained a student-centered, empathetic culture with a demonstrated commitment to assist Whitman students in funding their education.

While the new director of financial aid should be a champion of this culture, a strategic approach is necessary for the office to deliver efficient financial aid services that maximize technology and streamline processes. The new director should be a strong manager who is adept at identifying and advocating for resources to support financial aid initiatives, as well as staff training and professional development.

  • The new director must proactively create and maintain data standards to ensure data integrity and compliance with regulatory requirements, and must also demonstrate a high level of comfort with data analysis, data-informed decision-making, and internal/external data reporting.
  • Several stakeholders stated that the new director must be a visionary who brings a holistic, collaborative approach to the role and develops an understanding of the ways in which the work of the FAO intersects with other offices on campus.
  • The next director will prioritize the utilization of technology in order to best serve students, maximizing self-service, enhancing efficiency and efficacy, and creating more dynamic interactions between office staff and students.
  • The new director must also demonstrate an understanding of the enrollment management perspective and how the FAO is instrumental in advancing Whitman’s enrollment, retention, and graduation goals. It will be critical to enhance ongoing dialogue, partnership, and training with the Office of Admission.
  • The director of financial aid will find a senior leadership team and peer group that is welcoming, promotes open communication, emphasizes an orientation toward service, and desires a forward-thinking professional.
  • It is essential for the new director to be a proactive and transparent communicator who keeps the FAO staff and the campus community informed of updates and changes, while also engaging stakeholders in ongoing financial-aid education and training.


A bachelor’s degree (master’s preferred), a minimum of five years of professional experience in a financial aid office, and experience managing institutional-based scholarship programs are required. In addition, expert knowledge of general financial aid systems, procedures, and federal and state financial aid regulations, as well as knowledge of basic management skills and counseling techniques, will be expected of the director. Sophisticated understanding and demonstrated experience with financial aid leveraging modeling, strong data/analytical skills, and expert utilization of data and current industry technology in support of the division’s goals and responsibilities will be expected of the director. Excellent interpersonal and management skills and exceptional written, face-to-face, and presentation skills will also be required.

Stakeholders at Whitman College indicated that in addition to the required qualifications for candidates, the following personal characteristics would be sought in the successful candidate for the director of financial aid position:

  • empathy and the ability to listen and support students, but also the ability to say no as needed;
  • energy and a positive attitude;
  • eagerness to collaborate with colleagues across campus to ensure the successful transition and retention of students;
  • good listening skills, and the ability to counsel students and families about the financial aid process with professionalism;
  • creativity to recommend events, workshops, or communications to engage prospective and current students;
  • technical skills and the ability to pull, analyze, and present data to various institutional constituent;
  • excellent communication and presentation skills;
  • an open door policy;
  • collaboration and efficiency;
  • thoughtful and innovative management of change;
  • innovation and creativity;
  • good communication with all stakeholders, including students, faculty, and staff;
  • knowledge of financial-aid compliance regulations;
  • ability to work well under pressure;
  • friendly persona, yet firm as necessary;
  • strong “people skills” and the ability to work with students, parents, faculty, and staff colleagues in a multitude of settings;
  • well-developed analytical skills and the ability to work closely with campus partners on reconciling data matches;
  • skillful and empathetic approach to a broad range of students;
  • great customer service skills;
  • experience working with aid-leveraging strategies and the ability to assist in developing awarding strategies to maximize financial resources while also serving students well; and
  • experience with Ellucian Colleague, PowerFaids, and Slate is a plus.

Institution & Location

Institutional Background

In 1836, a few miles from the current city of Walla Walla, Marcus and Narcissa Whitman established a Christian mission and school to teach the Cayuse Indians to read and write their native language. Later, the Whitmans provided assistance to Oregon Trail travelers. In 1847, Rev. Cushing Eells resolved to establish a school in the Whitmans’ honor. The Washington Territorial Legislature granted a charter to Whitman Seminary on December 20, 1859. On November 28, 1883, the legislature issued a new charter, changing the seminary into a four-year, degree-granting college.

From its beginning, Whitman College has prized its independence from sectarian and political control. Whitman has remained small in order to facilitate the close faculty-student interaction that is essential to exceptional higher education. In 1913, Whitman became the first college or university in the nation to require undergraduate students to complete comprehensive examinations in their major fields. The installation of a Phi Beta Kappa chapter in 1919, the first for any northwestern college, marked Whitman’s growing reputation.

Today Whitman is known for its culture of intellectual curiosity, academic rigor, good-natured fun, a sense of adventure, and an outdoorsy lifestyle. Whitman traditions embrace the distinctive qualities and sense of balance that characterize the campus and community.

One hallmark of life at Whitman is its genuine love for learning and the pursuit of knowledge across boundaries and borders. This “life of the mind” begins even before students reach campus: All incoming students read a book chosen by the college president for the Summer Reading program, regardless of their majors. During Opening Week, new students gather with Encounters professors to discuss the chosen work. Recent selections include Reservation Blues, Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do, and The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Migration.

But it’s not just reading. Talented Whitman student writers from various disciplines compete annually in Whitman’s One-Act Play Contest. A panel of faculty and staff vote on student-written scripts, and the three winning plays—completely written, acted, and produced by students—are performed at Harper Joy Theatre. During the Whitman Undergraduate Conference, an annual, day-long event, the entire community celebrates the scholarship and creative achievements of Whitman students.

From long-standing traditions to spontaneous moments of celebration, this is a campus that makes it easy to embrace the extracurricular adventures, friendships, and experiences that make for a truly memorable college experience.

The heart of Whitman’s campus is Ankeny Field, where students gather for everything from athletic practice to social events and sunsets. Adventurous students, staff, faculty, and alumni also enjoy another landmark on the Whitman campus: the climbing center on the south side of the Sherwood Athletic Facility. This facility, with over 7,000 square feet of climbing surface, is open every day when school is in session. It is one of the best college climbing walls in the nation and is the host site in late April for the annual Sweet Onion Crank rock-climbing competition. There are two open kayak sessions offered weekly at the pool, as well as several outdoor clubs (hiking, backcountry skiing, whitewater paddling, and climbing). These and many more northwest-style adventures are sponsored by Whitman’s Outdoor Program, which the Association of Outdoor Recreation and Education (AORE) recently recognized with its David J. Webb Program Excellence Award. Only one outdoor program in the nation receives this award each year, and Whitman is the smallest school to ever have ever been so honored.

Institutional Leadership

Kathleen M. Murray President

On July 1, 2015, Kathleen Murray became the 14th president of Whitman College. She was previously provost and dean of the faculty at Macalester College, where she led the academic program of one of America’s finest liberal arts colleges, planned a new $70 million fine-arts center, and played a key role in the development of Macalester’s strategic plan. Prior to Macalester, she was provost at Birmingham-Southern College in Alabama for three years.

President Murray received her Bachelor of Music degree from Illinois Wesleyan University in 1979, her Master of Music in piano performance from Bowling Green State University in 1982, and her Doctor of Music in piano performance and pedagogy from Northwestern University in 1989. Over the course of nineteen years, she was a member of the piano faculty, dean of the Conservatory of Music, and dean of the faculty at Lawrence University in Wisconsin. A frequent performer, she is also a clinician and adjudicator both nationally and internationally, as well as the author of numerous articles on music and music education. She is recorded on the CRI label.

Murray is a passionate advocate of the liberal arts and the residential learning experience. She firmly believes that her undergraduate years in such a setting developed her potential as a scholar and artist, laying the foundation for her rewarding career and life.

As president of Whitman College, Murray looks forward to close connections with the entire community. She loves to travel when she has the opportunity, and recalls a hike up Mount Kilimanjaro as being one of her high points, literally and figuratively.

President Murray announced she will retire from Whitman College at end of the 2021-2022 academic year. The campus is currently engaged in a national search for her successor.


Benefits Overview

Benefits Overview

Full-time employees are eligible for the following benefits:

  • medical/prescription/vision plan
  • retirement savings plan
  • healthcare and dependent-care flexible spending plan
  • employee-assistance program
  • dental plan
  • group life insurance
  • group AD&D insurance
  • optional life and AD&D insurance
  • optional group dependent life insurance
  • long-term disability insurance


View more information about Whitman’s benefits.