Once again, the state’s student financial aid agency conducted a national search for its next president and CEO and landed on someone already on its payroll. The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency board of directors on Thursday named its interim CEO James Steeley to lead the 3,300-employee agency on a permanent basis. Steeley, 40, of Lewisberry, is a certified public accountant who worked in the banking industry before coming to work for PHEAA in 2015 as its chief financial officer. He has been serving as its acting CEO since July.
He succeeds James Preston who retired after 11 years in that position but had been serving as an executive vice president at PHEAA for four years prior to assuming that post. Steeley is the seventh person in the 56-year-old agency’s history to head this agency. He will be paid $330,000 a year, which is one of the highest paid positions in all of Pennsylvania’s state government. In that role, he will be charged with running the agency that is a loan servicer for the federal student loan program and administrator of the state grant and other state-funded student financial aid programs.
PHEAA is at a critical stage right now as it struggles to improve its financial position to resume its role in supplementing the state funding for the student grant program as it has done most years over the past decade. Steeley has played an instrumental role in assisting with a transformation that includes launching a new student loan program this spring. Steeley expressed his appreciation to the board for naming him to the permanent position. He said he was humbled by the board’s confidence in him and added that confidence is a reflection of the team around him.