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A Partner in the Process

IN ADDITION to a fierce commitment to student access and affordability, Varo Duffins has two trademarks: a warm smile and a striking collection of bow ties. Swarthmore’s director of financial aid since 2015, he believes in collaboration across the board.

“Students and parents presume that we are their partners,” he says. “We need to meet that expectation and mirror that perspective.”

What challenges will we face?

Adapting the financial aid process to the increasingly changing pool of prospective students and making sure that access and affordability are sustained and remain equitable for students at all levels of financial need. Swarthmore’s ability to sustain loan-free financial aid awarding will be key. It not only supports affordability among current students, it enables our new graduates to gain a financial advantage (e.g. not having high student loan repayments) when an added debt burden might alter the timing of critical life choices.

What helps you succeed at work?

My prior roles in financial aid and admissions have allowed me to understand how students and parents view getting in, fitting in, and paying for college. These are key enrollment challenges of elite liberal arts colleges. At Swarthmore, our office works very hard to assist students with issues that cannot always be anticipated, to enhance our communication with students and parents, and to promote greater ease in completing the application process.

Who inspired your leadership?

My Little League baseball coach and teacher, Terry Eberly. He volunteered to coach 12-year-old boys, but his real intent was to develop us into young men. He attributed our every success and error to mental rather than physical effort and insisted on a code of conduct based on respect for our teammates and for ourselves. We went undefeated two summers in a row. He was brilliant, and his example has remained with me.

What do you do outside work?

I spend time with my family: my wife, Sharon; our cat, Luke; our dog, Chewie. I enjoy movies, ’80s music, fixing (sometimes breaking) things around the house and garage, reading, and learning to play the guitar. Since 2005, I have also been a board member of Kids’ Chance of Pennsylvania, working alongside workers’ compensation professionals to raise and award funds to college-bound children of those who have been seriously injured or killed in a work-related accident. I am humbled by the difficult circumstances these students and their families have faced, and by their courage in overcoming them.

Why did you major in biology?

I liked the way science courses made me think. Building, developing, and perfecting detail-specific processes were skills I would’ve needed as a biologist but that I also need in financial aid.

What inspires you?

Thoughtful on- and off-campus discussions surrounding increasing economic diversity and affordability, and working with a terrific experienced team to help students turn their dream to attend Swarthmore into a reality.