James A. Belvin Jr., Duke University's financial aid director for more than three decades and a national leader in the student-assistance field, will retire later this year, President Richard H. Brodhead announced Monday.
During his 32 years as financial aid director, Belvin was responsible for administering financial support that helped enable more than 30,000 students to attend Duke. During that time, the diversity of Duke's students grew significantly and the number of Duke undergraduates receiving financial aid grew from about 25 percent to more than 40 percent of the student body. Belvin's role expanded to include managing graduate and professional student loans, overseeing the university's student employment program and creating a program for Duke to lend directly to students.
"I got to be the conduit for Duke's generosity, which helped thousands of students access a Duke education," Belvin said. "And that's very, very gratifying."
A committee chaired by Steve Nowicki, dean of undergraduate education, will conduct a national search for Belvin's successor. Once a new director is on campus, Belvin will assume a consultant's role at Duke until the end of 2008.
Beyond his work at Duke, Belvin has been a leader in the national student-aid community. He has testified before Congress on federal student-loan practices, helped create a national standard for determining need-blind aid and introduced a system for colleges to give financial aid to international students. Duke is one of a limited number of "need-blind" schools that admits undergraduates based on their academic accomplishments and potential without regard to their ability to pay. Duke then meets 100 percent of the students' demonstrated financial needs so they can attend the university.
Belvin is author or co-author of a dozen publications on financial aid, including the 2004 book "How To Save For College." He also has served on the trustee or advisory boards of numerous groups and institutions involved in college admissions and financial aid. These include The College Board testing and admissions organization, student loan organizations such as Sallie Mae and USAFunds, and the Princeton Review college-preparation company.
Most recently, Belvin worked with Brodhead and Provost Peter Lange to increase the amount of need-based financial aid that Duke awards to its students. As part of a plan announced in December 2007, Duke is eliminating parental contributions for families who make less than $60,000 a year and is making it possible for students from families with incomes below $40,000 to graduate debt-free. Duke also is reducing loans for students from families with incomes up to $100,000 and will cap loans for eligible families with incomes above $100,000. Officials estimate the new financial aid program will benefit nearly 2,500 undergraduates when it goes into effect next fall.
"Jim Belvin knows the nuts and bolts of financial aid as well as anyone in his trade, but he's always had his eyes on the real goal: creating opportunity by making education affordable to all," Brodhead said. "Duke has been extraordinarily fortunate to have a person of his ability in this crucial position."
Working under four presidents at Duke, Belvin said he saw Duke's approach to financial aid evolve.
"There's been this growing interest among our leadership here to really try to shape our financial aid program in ways that do more than just encourage matriculation," he said. "We want students who need assistance to be able to have the full experience at Duke."
Former Duke President H. Keith H. Brodie said Belvin "did a great job of positioning Duke to move from what had almost been viewed as an elitist upper-class school to one that met all demonstrated need either through grant or loan."
While Nannerl O. Keohane was president of Duke, Belvin was appointed to lead a committee representing Duke and peer institutions to come up with a common method for assessing a family's ability to pay for college expenses.
"Jim was one of the first to see that the arcane and uneven rules for determining eligibility for aid presented a problem that needed to be solved," Keohane said. "Then he did a great job of chairing the working group that recommended uniform guidelines that Duke and its peers can use so that families will not find the process so bewildering and irrational."
Belvin said "financial aid creates the possible." Of his many memories at Duke, he said he particularly recalls two students. "One came here from an abusive relationship with her husband, had no money and was living in a shelter, and yet we found a way to help her. She finished Duke; she went on to law school. She's now a lawyer doing international law.
"The second student overcame a variety of financial and family problems to graduate from Duke and use her experiences to become a leader in the college counseling field."