The latest requirements to help simplify the FAFSA affect Cost of Attendance and Professional Judgment.
By Rick Cox
The Department of Education has issued a Dear Colleague Letter on the requirements from the FAFSA Simplification Act that will be implemented for the 2023-2024 award year. Please see below for a summary of the main changes. To access the entire letter for definitions, items that remain the same, the Q&A and other minor changes, please click here.
COST OF ATTENDANCE
Changes affecting Cost of Attendance include:
- Equipment, materials and supplies has moved out of “tuition and fees” into a broader definition of “books, course materials, supplies and equipment.”
- “Room and board” are now known as “food and housing.”
- Transportation may now include transportation between campus, residences and a student’s place of work.
- Living expense categories now break out costs associated with specific housing and food situations and require standard allowances within certain categories, such as on or off campus and with or without a meal plan.
- Institutions may no longer include loan fees for non-federal student loans borrowed by students.
- The costs of obtaining a license, certification or first professional credential are no longer restricted to a one-time allowance.
- “Course materials” and “the cost of obtaining a license, certification or a first professional credential” were added to the types of expenses an institution may include in a confined or incarcerated individual’s COA.
- The types of expenses an institution may include in the COA for a student who is enrolled less than half time has been broadened to include components not otherwise prohibited by the law.
۰ For example, an allowance for students in work related to a cooperative education program is permissible because that COA element does not exclude less than-half-time students, while miscellaneous personal expenses are not includable.
- The Act expands existing consumer information requirements by explicitly stating that each institution must make COA information publicly available on its website.
۰ The disclosure must include a list of all COA elements and must appear on any portion of the website that describes tuition and fees.
- Under the Act, the department may now regulate the cost of attendance, except for tuition and fees, and may choose to do so in the future to provide clarity in this area.
The FAFSA Simplification Act distinguishes between different categories of professional judgment by amending Section 479A of the Higher Education Act.
- Special Circumstances refer to the financial situations (loss of a job, etc.) that justify an aid administrator adjusting data elements in the COA or in the EFC calculation.
- Unusual Circumstances refer to the conditions that justify an aid administrator making an adjustment to a student’s dependency status based on a unique situation (e.g., human trafficking, refugee or asylee status, parental abandonment, incarceration), more commonly referred to as a dependency override.
- Institutions must now publicly disclose that students may pursue an adjustment based on special or unusual circumstances.
- Institutions may not maintain a policy of denying all professional judgment requests but must consider all such requests. Therefore, institutions must develop policies and processes for reviewing those requests.
- Institutions may use a dependency override determination made by a financial aid administrator at another institution in the same or a prior award year.
- For aid applications for the 2023-2024 award year and thereafter, schools and financial aid administrators must:
۰ Notify students of the school’s process, requirements and reasonable timeline to review adjustment requests after their FAFSA form is submitted;
۰ Provide students with a final determination of their dependency status and financial aid award as soon as practicable after reviewing all requested documentation;
۰ Retain all documentation, including documented interviews, related to the adjustment for at least three years after the student’s last term of enrollment; and
۰ Presume that any student who has obtained an adjustment for unusual circumstances and a final determination of independence to be independent for each subsequent award year at the same institution unless the student informs the institution that their circumstances have changed or the institution has conflicting information about the student’s independence.
Timing of Determinations of Independence (includes unaccompanied homeless youth or at-risk homeless youth, foster care youth, orphans, wards of the court and students with unusual circumstances). Institutions must review all requests for a determination of independence as quickly as practicable but no later than 60 days after the student enrolls.
- Renewal applicants with an eligible homeless youth, foster care youth, orphan, ward of the court, emancipated minor or legal guardianship flag on their 2022-2023 FAFSA form will have their answers to these questions carried over and pre-populated into their 2023-2024 FAFSA form.
۰ Other answers to dependency questions (e.g., age, dependent children and veteran status) continue to carry over to the 2023-2024 FAFSA form.
- Renewal applicants must still affirm that their previous answers to the dependency questions are correct and applicable before submitting their FAFSA form.
Rick Cox is Global’s Executive Director of Regulatory Affairs and Compliance