Appealing Financial Aid During the Coronavirus Crisis

Appealing Financial Aid During the Coronavirus Crisis

Just a few months ago we began hearing reports about a new virus in central China that was causing thousands to be sick and hundreds of deaths. The extent of the outbreak quickly changed, and the World Health Organization officially declared a pandemic of the coronavirus or COVID-19.

To say it disrupted our lives would be an understatement.

For those in college, it crashed their last semester, nixed study abroad plans, and for seniors, disrupted graduation plans. For those applying to college, it’s meant confusion and frustration as they make their final college choice.

As the crisis unfolded, families were also in the process of receiving admission offers and financial aid packages.

What would this mean for the future? Would they be able to pay for college if they lose their jobs or are required to stop work without pay because of the quarantine? Will colleges be sympathetic and if so, how will they handle this crisis?

Colleges are facing enrollment uncertainty, risk to their revenue streams and millions of dollars are being refunded for room and board. Add to these, colleges are incurring new costs associated with digital classrooms. These unforeseen expenses add to the college’s inability to predict tuition revenue because families are in limbo right now waiting to see what happens with quarantines and family finances. 

For parents, financial circumstances may have changed due to loss of income or job related to the partial national shutdown.

This information may help families get additional funding to pay for their student’s college next year. Families can appeal to the college’s financial aid office for more aid because of their change of income.

Brad Barnett, Director Financial Aid and Scholarships of James Madison University, said, “What we’re anticipating as we get more into the summer months, is that we’ll start to receive more letters from students and parents in particular explaining about income reductions, job losses.”

 

How Does the CARES Act Help Colleges and Students?

The COVID-19 relief package includes $14.25 billion for colleges and universities, which would have to use at least half of the funding on emergency financial aid directly to students.

The American Council on Education created a simulation of where the emergency funds for higher education included in the relief package should be directed.

The simulation, which uses data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, provides an estimate of where the money will go for general planning. But the U.S. Department of Education ultimately will determine the final dollar amounts.

About $12.5 billion will be allocated to institutions based on a breakdown of 75 percent going toward the full-time enrollment equivalent of Pell Grant recipients and 25 percent for the full-time equivalent enrollment of students who don’t receive Pell Grants.

An alphabetized list of states and their institutions with the estimated funding amounts can be found here.

 

How Do Colleges Consider These Appeals?

There are probably two primary questions students and parents are likely asking themselves: 

  • Since savings and investments have been impacted by significant stock market declines, can I update the asset portion of my FAFSA?
  • What can we do since a parent has lost a job or a big portion of our income due to COVID-19?

If either of these questions relate to your family, you are probably asking, “Can I update my FAFSA?” 

Unfortunately, a family can not update their FAFSA. The FAFSA represents a “snapshot” of a family’s financial situation as of that date they filed the form.

While you can not update the FAFSA, you can contact a school’s financial aid office to let them know that your FAFSA does not accurately reflect your current situation. This is known as the professional judgment process. 

The U.S. Department of Education has issued guidance to college financial aid administrators, allowing them to use professional judgement when “students and/or their families have been affected by COVID-19.” The coronavirus will not change the financial aid appeal procedures, however.

Colleges will be reviewing financial aid appeals as usual, on a case-by-case basis.

As is procedure, colleges will require supporting documentation when filing an appeal. Some colleges have an appeal form on their website and others will simply ask for a letter outlining the circumstances that have affected the family’s ability to pay for college.

If you are unclear about which documentation to use, call the financial aid office.

Colleges use professional judgement to make adjustments to the cost of attendance or to the data elements used in calculating the EFC to reflect a student’s special circumstances.

The documentation the college receives must substantiate the reason for the adjustment and colleges are bound to make the adjustment due to COVID-19 circumstances regardless of how broadly an event may affect its student population. In addition, many colleges have emergency financial aid funds available.

 

When Can You File An Appeal For More Money?

By this time, you should have received your financial aid package from the colleges that offered admission.

If your family income has changed due to the coronavirus, you can appeal for more financial aid. If your student has been admitted but not enrolled, you can appeal to the college for more financial aid. 

Mark Kantrowitz, Publisher and VP of Research for Savingforcollege.com, in an article for Forbes recently outlined some examples of special circumstances related to COVID-19 that might justify an adjustment include:

  • The student or parent’s employer closes for a period of time, laying off or furloughing staff
  • Death of a parent or other wage-earner
  • Lost wages due to illness, a quarantine period or shelter-in-place order
  • Inability to work because of illness (e.g., impaired lung function prevents a parent from engaging in substantial gainful activity)
  • Illness or death of a parent
  • Costs of returning home and putting belongings in storage after the college orders students to vacate the dorms 

 

Can Current College Students Appeal For More Financial Aid?

Current college students are also eligible to appeal their financial aid as well. If they have lost their job, had a reduction in work hours, or cannot work because of the quarantine or lockdown due to the coronavirus outbreak, they may need additional financial aid to attend college. Colleges will also pay students who receiving federal work study income.

For more information about submitting a financial aid appeal, click here. This article will provide you with all the information regarding appeals. You can also view a recent Facebook Live event about appealing for financial aid and answering appeal questions. 

Additionally, The U.S. Department of Education has posted information for students, borrowers and parents as part of its broader coronavirus response.

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Suzanne Shaffer

Suzanne Shaffer

Suzanne Shaffer counsels parents and students in the college admissions process and the importance of early college preparation. Her Parenting for College blog offers timely college tips for parents and students, as well as providing parents with the resources necessary to help their college-bound teens navigate the college maze.
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