TASFAA Community Blog
Planning for the Shopping Sheet -- Make a List and Check it Twice Linda Peckham
Senior Training Strategist, Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corporation
The Financial Aid Shopping Sheet, developed by the Department of Education in conjunction with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, was designed to provide students with an improved comparison tool when making a college enrollment decision. The form is intended to help students better understand how much grant aid, versus loan and work aid, they are being offered. The form also provides information about the college, including graduation rates, default rates, and average student indebtedness, to help students make a more informed choice.
Although not mandatory for the 2013-14 aid cycle (except for institutions that must comply under E.O. 13607), over 350 institutions will adopt the Shopping Sheet and are actively planning for implementation, most without the support of their enterprise software providers. The Great Lakes Training team spoke with several of these institutions to learn more about why they chose to participate in this first year and to ask what advice they would offer their peer institutions who will implement the template next year.
Ryan C. Williams, Associate Vice President of Enrollment Management at Syracuse University, says the university embraced the new Shopping Sheet because "it really supports our core mission to provide financial literacy for students throughout their lifecycle with us - from pre-enrollment to graduation." Reflecting on the usefulness of the Shopping Sheet for students, he noted, "The Sheet will really highlight those institutions that do not meet full need, and it will make it much more apparent to students what their future debt burden will be." Williams also feels that by providing the Shopping Sheet to returning students, the institution can help offer better information about increasing loan debt for students who take longer than four years to graduate. "They will be able to see the immediate impact of these decisions on their future loan debt."
Gaining a full understanding of future debt burdens and understanding the risk-benefit analysis of the enrollment decision is very much the Department of Education's intended goal of the template. But as Tabatha Turner, Senior Associate Director of Scholarships and Student Aid at UNC-Chapel Hill, notes, "Students will still use 'emotional college when making a collecge choice even when the long-term costs are made clear, but at least the Sheet will provide a way for families to compare those choices consistently from college to college and in ways that differ from the traditional award letter."
The Shopping Sheet, for example, will illustrate for a family that "Net Cost" is the difference between total cost and gift aid. Student loans, work-study, and Parent PLUS loans are listed as "options to pay net costs." In this way, the Shopping Sheet will clarify that loans, if needed, may in fact increase the long-term cost of the educational purchase decision.
Rick Shipman, Director of Financial Aid at Michigan State University, agrees that the Shopping Sheet, with its increased clarity about loans, will
help students understand the bottom line about their college purchase decision and highlight the long-term impact of their college choice on their financial lives." He cautions that for some students, the Shopping Sheet cannot replace the benefits of one-on-one counseling with financial aid staff about the award letter, and advises his staff to work closely with at-risk families before they make enrollment decisions.
At the University of Notre Dame, Director of Financial Aid Mary Nucciarone and her team are strong supporters of the Shopping Sheet and are working to make it available to both entering and returning students by early March. She emphasizes that the Shopping Sheet, with its comprehensive data about average debt, default rates and graduation rates, is a great tool for schools to display "their good news to students."
Nucciarone anticipates, however, that the Shopping Sheet will generate questions. For example for students who do not receive any loans as part of their award, Nucciarone notes, "The Shopping Sheet delineates loan information and students may wonder why their aid award letter does not include them or why the average loan debt is being reported on the Sheet." She is working with her counseling staff to find ways to help families understand the differences between the Shopping Sheet and the institutional award letter.
The Department of Education is currently building partnerships with enterprise software providers so that they can support the use of the Shopping Sheet in future award cycles and make it easier for more schools to use the tool. In the meantime, most of the 350 early adopters are using institutional resources to make the template work in this first year. Tips for colleagues considering adopting the Shopping Sheet this year or next include:
I know everyone wants to know all the details and have all the information to implement the 2013-2014 verification items right now. I promise you that ED is working hard to get information out to all of our schools outlining procedures, verification language that can be used when requesting data, possible documents, processing steps, etc. Please stay tuned to IFAP for more updates and guidance.
Speaking of verification, however, if you were not aware policy recently updated the program integrity website(http://www2.ed.gov/policy/highered/reg/hearulemaking/2009/verification.html) with six new verification Q & As to help the current verification process – disbursing unsubsidized aid when verification is not complete (VER-Q11); what to do when SNAP or child support paid is not reported on the FAFSA but appears on the VWS (VI-Q2 and VI-Q6); acceptable transcript documentation (DOC-Q2 and DOC-Q10); and changing FAFSA data to include a rollover as a correction (CHD-Q2).
One important piece of information to point out under VI-Q2 and VI-Q6 is that a record of account transcript can now also be used as one of the possible items for acceptable documentation when verifying an amended return. Please see the program integrity Q & A website for more detailed information.
A lot of schools are still asking if a student has reached their Pell 600% limit can they receive FSEOG funds. The answer – possible but unlikely. Remember in the FSEOG program a school must set up two selection groups. The first selection group contains students with the lowest EFCs who will also receive a Pell Grant. However, remember that this provision does not require a student to receive a Pell Grant in the same payment period as FSEOG just that they receive Pell in the same award year they are receiving FSEOG.
The second selection group consists of those students with the lowest EFCs who are NOT receiving Pell Grants. The second selection group will be utilized only if there are remaining FSEOG funds after making awards to all Pell grant recipients in the first selection group. Please note that students not receiving any Pell Grant during the award year as a result of exceeding their Pell LEU limits would fall in the second selection group. And though it is possible to award FSEOG to students in the second selection group, many schools are unable to award FSEOG to students in the second group because they never get beyond awarding FSEOG to Pell recipients with low EFCs in their first selection group.
Another question I have been getting a lot is around how to award Pell to a student with less than 100% eligibility remaining in the award year due to reaching the Pell 600% limit. In those cases you would award the student Pell similar to how you handle a transfer student. You would award up to the normal full amount allowed in the first payment period and provide any remaining amount in the second or subsequent payment periods. For example, if a student is enrolled in a standard term semester program (fall and spring) with an annual Pell award of $4800 (100%) with a current LEU of 523.867% then their remaining eligibility is 76.133% of the annual award ($3654.384). Remember you do not round the percentages. Assuming the student is full-time, the school would disburse 50% of the annual award ($4800) in the 1st term ($2400) and would disburse the remainder of the annual award in the second term, up to the remainder of their LEU = $1254.384 (26.133%). Remember you may round the dollar amount down to $1254 (26.125%), or award the cents $1254.38 (26.133%). What the school would NOT do is take the remaining amount of Pell for the year ($3654) and spread it out evenly among the terms the student would be attending.
SAP and Clock Hour Programs
For schools with clock hour programs please note that policy did post examples of how to measure the quantitative component of SAP on the program integrity Q & A website (http://www2.ed.gov/policy/highered/reg/hearulemaking/2009/sap.html) back in late August under the R-Q9 question. Three examples were provided to showcase how to measure the quantitative requirement at the end of the 3 possible payment period scenarios allowed under clock hour programs. Please review the program integrity website for specific details.
Federal Student Aid (FSA) recently announced the availability of an Electronic Income-Based Repayment (IBR) Application on the StudentLoans.gov Website. Through interfaces with the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Electronic IBR Application streamlines the application process for the majority of borrowers who choose to repay their eligible William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan (Direct Loan) Program and/or Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program loans under the IBR Plan. Borrowers will use the application to initially apply to repay under the IBR Plan and to subsequently meet the plan’s annual income documentation requirement.
FSA has provided a high level summary of the Electronic IBR Application and details the following information:
The complete article can be found here: Electronic Income-Based Repayment Application in PDF Format, 94KB, 5 Pages
A Reminder from Janie Burns regarding the SASFAA 2013 Conference:
The SASFAA Conference Committee has started the work on the 2013 Annual Conference which will be held February 10 - 13, 2013 in Atlanta, GA. I am representing our state on the committee and now need your help. We want to showcase the talent and knowledge from Tennessee and what better way to do so then to present a concurrent session. Please complete the Presentation Proposal form and submit it by October 15, 2012 to me, Janie Burns at firstname.lastname@example.org. The committee will review all proposals and notify presenters of their selection by October 31, 2012.
SASFAA State Proposals to Present.docx
Doug Savage, TG Senior Regional Account Executive
There's little question that the digital age has democratized knowledge. These days, answering a question that once would have required extensive study and research may involve little more than a few clicks. Barriers to knowledge - including distance, expense, and institutional gatekeepers - have in many cases been made obsolete. That's an undeniable upside to the digital age. There is, however, a complementary downside: the sheer quantity of information may make it hard to digest. Data without context can be confusing. As technology historian George Dyson notes, "Information is cheap, but meaning is expensive."
As applied to the world of scholarships, those two facts - we have improved access to data, but we may not understand what it means - translate to a reality in which it is easier than ever for students to find out about scholarships for which they may be eligible but data saturation may keep them from making good use of available resources. This article aims to help give students a little more sense of the forest rather than the trees.
Applying for scholarships isn't the same thing as filling out the FAFSA.
When it comes to financial aid, filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is generally step one. Why? Because that one step sets students on the path to gaining federal and state aid. That's all great, but students may not understand that it's still a good idea for them to a scholarship search. They'll have heard that FAFSA completion will get them considered for all kinds of aid, and may not have fully digested that most scholarships require students to apply for them individually (rather than filling out one over-arching financial aid application). In practical terms, they may need a nudge to understand that it's a good idea to do a search, select some scholarships which are a good match, and apply as directed.
Think "free" not "fee."
There are a number of scholarship search services available for a fee. Students pay money, and the service matches them with scholarships for which they may be eligible. Thinking that the for-fee service must be more tailored to their needs than a free website, students may think the services offer a good value. However, some of these fee-based sites may be scams, and several of the free sites are excellent. These sites have databases that are regularly updated with new scholarships and/or any changes to application processes or criteria. Besides TG's scholarship search engine on its own Adventures In Education (AIE) website, (www.AIE.org/scholarships/), other free and available search engines are provided by:
Scholarships have varied criteria.
For many students, the negative voice in their heads will immediately begin squelching enthusiasm, shouting out gloomy pronouncements like "I'm not a straight A student!" or "I'm not an outstanding athlete or artist!" Part of this mission is to shine a light through the gloomy fog, reiterating to students that scholarships have varied criteria. Ranging from unique interests to where one lives to family background to none of the above, scholarship are available to a wide range of people, not just the start atheletes and exceptional scholars. It's in every student's best interest to conduct a search and not dismiss their chances without trying.
Cutting and pasting may not be the best approach.
Filling out applications isn't a favorite activity for many people. It follows, as night follows day, that students may be tempted to cut and paste a lot of text from one application into another. That is not the best idea. Why not? Remind students how the criteria vaired! That means that when a student is applying, it is poor audience adaptation to use the same answers for different scholarships provided by different donors who are looking for different things. Explain to students that while they should not misrepresent themselves, it is okay - advisable, in fact - to target answers to the kinds of qualities that best show how the student matches the given criteria.
Not every scholarship is listed in every database.
Some scholarships may be new and therefore may not be in every database. Some scholarship information may only be available through a college's website, or through a local civic organization or other local group. Some applications may be offline only. The point is that it's worth checking multiple sources rather than to do one search in one database. Students will benefit from checking with their Financial Aid Office, of course; that would be ideal. Short of that, broadly communicate that using one or more of the online search databases mentioned above is advisable, or that sutdents can check the school's website for informaiton about institutional aid. A little persistence and determination may lead them to an excellent funding source in realizing their college and career dreams.
In many ways, technology makes this a great time to be a student. Compared to their parents' generation students today have an abundance of easily available information about funding sources. With a little guidance, students can convert that information into meaningful knowledge on which they can act.
Doug Savage is a senior regional account executive for TG serving schools in TASFAA. You can reach Doug at (800) 252-9743, ext. 6711, or by email at email@example.com. Additional information about TG can be found online at www.TG.org.
Both the Senate and House are expected to pass a 6 month Continuing Resolution (CR) for FY 2013 which would fund all discretionary programs through March 27, 2013. The programs would be funded 0.6% above FY 2012 levels. This would mean no new programs would be started and no programs would be eliminated. Please see the NASFAA article at the below link.
Linda Peckham, Senior Training Strategist, Great Lakes Higher Education Corporation and Affiliates
Higher education at large has responded to the social media boon by strategically utilizing Facebook and other platforms to improve admissions, yield, community relations and even alumni giving. Why then, has the financial aid community been slower to respond? Concerns about office resources and how and when to post content are the most common reasons offered by aid leaders when asked about their lack of a social media presence. Ironically, schools with a successful financial aid social media presence have reaped substantial returns on investment with minimal use of staff time when they have deployed a strategic approach to a social media plan.
"Start with your mission," advised Amanda B Carter, associate director of financial aid at the University of Rochester. "We made the decision to enter the space based on who we are as an aid office and our desire to communicate more regularly with students." The University of Rochester successfully launched a Twitter account for financial aid in January and currently uses it to push out critical information about deadlines and policies. Strategically, they made the decision to only adopt Twitter and to continue to share a Facebook presence with the admissions office. Carter reports that one staff person is responsible for posting tweets and monitoring responses and generally spends about 30 minutes a day on this effort.
Northeastern University took a broader approach to using social media tools. "Financial aid offices often have a difficult time building trust and good communication with students so we saw social media as an important stategy for us," explains Jim Slattery, Senior Director of Financial Aid. Anya Morozkina, assistant director of communications and administration for the office, and the staff person responsible for the social media presence, concurs, "We wanted to change the perception among the students about the aid office. We are not hte grinches on campus. We want students to know that they can reach out to us and we are ready to help them."
Morozkina notes that Northeastern's strategy is focused on gaining a larger student audience and improving perceptions about the office. As a result, they have implemented a long term plan for posting content and update their Facebook page every other day. Content updates might include information about broader financial aid topics including articles reposted from NASFAA and other financial aid sources. Morozkina also recommends seeking topical ideas from student employees. "They know what their peers want."
Liz Gross, director of university marketing and communications at the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha, also encourages aid offices to embrace social media as part of their mission to serve students. "Social media can allow you to inform, connect and make a positive impression. Most aid offices are still thinking about it as only a one-way communication platform." She notes that aid professionals need to think about "the social media space as a community where you can publicly help students solve problems. It's really a way to turn your complainers into your champions."
Fullerton College has successfully embraced Facebook as an opportunity to improve customer service and student impressions about the financial aid office. Greg Ryan, director of financial aid, notes that their Facebook presence allows them to respond to student concerns within minutes and has resulted in dramatic decreases in phone calls to the office and shorter lines during peak periods. He also reports that over the three years since Fullerton implemented a Facebook page for the office, the amount of time he spends responding has diminished.
Gross says that Fullerton's experience is exactly what the goal should be for the financial aid office in the social media world: "You need to think about cultivating a community over time so that students begin to answer the questions for their peers. That's what you want in the long run. Students want to hear from other students about how to resolve processing or deadline issues."
Financial aid offices that have developed a social media presence based on strategy have successfully improved student service and campus perceptions about their office. As Gross sums up, "A social media presence provides public proof that your office is there to help."
Suggestions for starting your financial aid office social media effort:
Readers interested in more information about building a social media presence for their financial aid office are welcome to attend a free webinar on the topic hosted by Great Lakes. Please visit https://www.mygreatlakes.org/web/FAP/training/findAvailableEvents?selected=training for more information or to register.
From: Gigi Jones [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Subject: Pell Grant 40th Anniversary SFARN dinner and conference
I am pleased to extend a dinner invitation to TASFAA members on behalf of The Pell Institute (www.PellInstitute.org), a DC based organization that advocates to improve the educational opportunities and outcomes for low-income, first-generation, and disabled students. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Pell Grant, and The Pell Institute will commemorate this event at its annual SFARN (Student Financial Aid Research Network) conference with a dinner on Wednesday, June 13 (6:30pm-8:30pm) at the Westin Memphis Beale Street Hotel. The dinner will feature remarks from Clay Pell, IV, the late Senator Claiborne Pell’s grandson; Deborah Northcross, Executive Director, Southeastern Association of Educational Opportunity Program Personnel (SAEOPP); and Jamie Merisotis, President of Lumina Foundation.
I have been given the two attachments with additional information to share with TASFAA. If you have any questions about the dinner, please contact Lennox Alfred at email@example.com.
It is with hope that you would be so kind as to share this invitation with the TASFAA members who might be interested in attending.
PG40 Impact Flyer.pdf
Getting Your Hands DRT-Y: Reflections on Year Two of the FAFSA and the IRS Data Retrieval Tool
When Norman Caito first learned of the requirement that aid applicants pull their IRS data into their 2012-13 FAFSA data online, he was encouraged. “I was thrilled with the concept that I’d be able to review accurate application data early in the awarding cycle,” said Caito, Director of Financial Aid Operations and Services at the University of San Francisco, “At USF, verification of application data is critical to our mission of getting the right funds to the right students.”
The process is enabled by the Data Retrieval Tool (DRT), which was designed to pull actual tax return data into the FAFSA to make it easier on families to complete the applicationundefinedand to ease the verification process for aid administrators. Although the DRT was available in the 2011-12 application cycle, it was not mandatory. Effective with the 2012-13 processing cycle, the Department of Education adjusted the verification requirements to include that certain elements from the FAFSA could only be verified with DRT data, or through the use of an official IRS tax transcript submitted by the applicant.
Caito and other aid executives have learned the hard way that the regulation may have had the best of intentionsundefinedto simplify verification processes and reduce potential financial aid fraudundefinedbut its implementation has been challenging. Successful adoption of the process has required patience and out-of-the-box thinking, as well as some labor-intensive work-arounds when families are unable to successfully transfer their IRS data to the FAFSA.
Leslie Limper, Director of Financial Aid at Reed College, shares Caito’s observations. “Verification is very important here at Reed, so we communicated the new information about the DRT to families early and encouraged them to use it.”
Limper discovered that most families in her applicant pool followed their instructions faithfully and were happy to comply with the new process. However, continued snags between the IRS, the Central Processing System, and sometimes even the U.S. Postal Service resulted in process failures and lag times that have impacted aid offices’ ability to review and verify information in a timely manner. Limper adds: “The things we found out about how to really make this process work, we learned on our own. As a result, we’ve been adjusting our processes and dates all year long to accommodate families and the processing challenges we’ve encountered.”
Susan Fischer, Director of Student Financial Aid at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says the new process has presented a new “balancing act between administrative burden and good customer service to families.” Her team spent many hours revising processing and verification requirements at the beginning of the year to ensure that their office could meet processing deadlines and help families with the new approach. “We are dancing as fast as we can,” says Fischer, who cautions fellow aid administrators to find the most efficient way to verify data and disburse aid prior to the academic year.
According to Caito, Limper, and Fischer, some of the most common problems that families encounter with the DRT include:
To reduce some of the administrative burden caused by processing delays, the Department of Education recently adjusted its guidance to allow schools to use paper tax returns to verify data for filers “who have unsuccessfully attempted to use the DRT or obtain a transcript” until July 15th. But many schools are continuing to ask families to use the tool or the transcript anyway. “The process is here to stay and we’d rather have families stay on this path whenever possible,” says Heather McDonnell, Associate Dean of Financial Aid and Admissions at Sarah Lawrence College.
Thinking ahead to next year, aid colleagues suggest the following tips to help better prepare your applicants for the DRT or transcript request process:
Contact Us: firstname.lastname@example.org