Dr. Cynthia Grunden is a Financial Aid and Higher Education Specialist at Powers. With more than 20 years of experience as a financial aid administrator, she assists public and private colleges and universities with successfully navigating the highly regulated field of higher education and federal financial assistance.

Cynthia’s specialty is helping institutions interpret and operationalize complex regulations. She understands the difficulty of balancing compliance, enrollment management, and customer service, and supports clients by listening to their needs, advising them on regulatory matters, and helping them find solutions that will work for their unique operations and institutional cultures.

Cynthia started her career in financial aid at Indiana University Bloomington while earning her M.S. in Higher Education at the institution. After completing her master’s degree, she served in a leadership capacity at several institutions which deepened her understanding of the unique challenges and opportunities for different sectors of higher education. She worked at the University of Chicago, San Diego Mesa College, and National-Louis University. Cynthia’s first Director of Financial Aid role was at Harry S Truman College, and within four years she was promoted to serve as the Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Financial Services for the City Colleges of Chicago. In this role, she provided support and oversight for the financial aid offices of a large and complex system of community colleges. Cynthia’s most recent role in higher education was serving as Assistant Vice President of Student Financial Services at Columbia College Chicago. In this role, she provided leadership to the financial aid team, bursar team, veteran certifying team, and one-stop customer service center. Cynthia was also responsible for developing and monitoring the college’s tuition discounting strategy and served on several institutional committees that developed strategies for pricing, recruitment, retention, customer service, and the college’s reopening plan related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While pursuing her career in higher education, Cynthia earned her Doctor of Education degree in Educational Leadership and Organizational Change from Roosevelt University. Her dissertation was a qualitative study of the gendered experiences of women veterans who were deployed to post 9/11 missions and subsequently enrolled in higher education. Cynthia’s interest in this topic was sparked when she served as a veteran certifying official and learned of the unique challenges faced by women veterans in higher education.

Cynthia is deeply involved in the higher education and financial aid community. She is a NASFAA Certified Financial Aid Administrator® and serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Student Financial Aid. Cynthia serves as an Independent Consultant for Blue Icon Advisors, where she has provided leadership coaching to new Directors of Financial Aid, assisted institutions in preparing for and responding to federal program reviews, reviewed student records for compliance issues, and assisted with the development of comprehensive policies and procedures. Cynthia serves as a Peer Reviewer for the Higher Learning Commission, which involves visiting institutions as a member of a review team, determining if they meet the standards of continued accreditation, and preparing a formal report of the team's assessment. She has also served on many committees to advance the goal of college affordability, including serving as a committee member of the Chicago Public Schools College Compact, a member of a state task force to make recommendations for improving the State of Illinois’s primary college grant program, and as a Strategic Advisory Board Member for Othot, a higher education data analytics company focused on strategic enrollment management. Cynthia recently authored a chapter on strategic planning for the financial aid office in the third edition of NASFAA’s anthology “You’re the Director: A Guide to Leadership in Student Financial Aid.” Additionally, she has recently completed the Strategic Enrollment Management Endorsement Program through AACRAO.

Practice Areas


Doctor of Education, Educational Leadership and Organizational Change, Roosevelt University, 2014

M.S., Indiana University, 2003

B.S., Indiana University, 2001

Memberships & Activities

Editorial Board Member, the Journal of Student Financial Aid (June 2015 – Present)

Peer Reviewer, Higher Learning Commission (October 2018 - Present)