Monday, February 27, 2012

What if? Scenario 3

What if I will be the father of a child, but I'm not married to my girlfriend?

This question is a bit complicated to answer. The rules of Financial Aid are clear, but at the same time sometimes leave a little room for interpretation. The key in Financial Aid is not only to follow the rules, but in cases like this where there is some room for interpretation, the school has to make sure that the Dept of Ed, their accrediting agency, and their policies agree on the answer. So, the answer to this may be different from school to school.

The FA rules state that to count a child (or any dependent for that matter), you have to provide more than 50% of their support for the year. Just because you have a child doesn't necessarily mean you are automatically an independent student; the key is the 50%. The rules also state that unless you are married to your significant other, you can't count them as a member of the household unless (you guessed it) you provide more than 50% of their support for the year.

The real key to answering the question above (and what makes this a tricky question) is the phrase "will be". This means that the child is unborn. The rules on this are quite simply stated: 1.) you will provide more than 50% for the unborn child when it is born, and 2.) the child must be born before or during the award year for which you want to count it. So, if you are filling out a 2012-13 FAFSA, and the child will be born in April, then you would count the child (if the first condition also applies). If the child will be born in December 2012, you can count the child for the 2012-13 FAFSA (if the first condition applies). But if you are filling out a 2011-12 FAFSA, and the child isn't born until August, then you can't count the child since it isn't born during the 2011-12 award year.

These are just the rules as stated. The interpretation and policies of some schools differ. Schools are always allowed to go stricter than the federal guidelines. Some schools will only allow an unmarried mother of an unborn child to count the child as a member of the family on the FAFSA, but not the unmarried father. Some require documentation of how much support the father and/or mother will be contributing to the unborn child (this is especially true if the prospective student is still considered a dependent except for the factor of having a child).

The best idea for a student to ask their school what their policy is. Like it says above, there is some interpretation for schools. If the Dept of Ed doesn't agree with a school's decision in awarding aid to you, then the school is in trouble, and if the school has awarded that aid to you, then the school owes it back, which means you will have to find your education elsewhere. Schools typically want to avoid this at all cost, so they want to make sure that things are right. So, don't be too frustrated if your school won't allow such an interpretation; it may actually be less of a hassle in the future for you in some cases.

Monday, February 20, 2012

What if? Scenario 2

What if my schedule changes from what is originally was? Will this affect my Financial Aid?

The answer is probably. The normal schedule is a fulltime schedule (meaning you have at least 12 credits) per quarter/semester. Loans are based on an academic year (2 semesters/3 quarters). If for one of those you have less than 12 credits, your loan may or may not change, but your pell grant will. You see, since loans are filled out for the academic year, as long as you have a total of at least 36 credits in your 2 semesters/3 quarters, then your your loans won't change. So you could be 3/4 time or even half time in one, as long as the other(s) make up the difference to total at least 36. Your pell grant, on the other hand, is based on the number of credits in the individual term, so if you drop below 12 credits in your semester/quarter, then your pell grant will drop for that term.

So, the short answer is maybe. For some situations, a change in schedule may change your Financial Aid, and in other situations, it won't. The important thing is that you make sure you stop by the Financial Aid office and ask them how a situation will affect your eligibility. Sometimes, what seems like an insignificant change could potentially be a big deal. It's always best to find out.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Consumer Information

Beginning in the 2009-10 Award Year, Consumer Information became a new rule for schools. The Department of Education required colleges and universities to make available certain pieces of information to all potential students in a manner that was easy for people to find. They have since gone on to say that the information should be no more than 3-4 clicks from the homepage, with less clicks being preferred. Although not necessarily required, it is important to have all the Consumer Information in the same place. Some of the larger universities already had most of the information on their websites, but they weren't together. The solution they had was to create a page on the website called "Consumer Information", which had links to the specific page on the website with the information. Some of the smaller schools, just created a pdf document on their websites with the information typed.

The information that was supposed to be included in the Consumer Information included things like policies. Schools would have to include their Satisfactory Academic Progress policy, refund policy, and general school policies. Cost of attendance including tuition and fees, and an explanation how a student's COA is figured. The types of financial aid available is a required disclosure, as well as a description of them. Contact information such as phone and address should be included. There really is no such thing as being too specific, because it is supposed to be a student's guide to how things work at the school they are looking at. The information is supposed to also be a more regular English (as opposed to governmental regulation lingo).

Here is a link to Metro Business College's Consumer Information; it is found under the "About Us" tab of the website: http://metrobusinesscollege.edu/pdfs/ConsumerInformation.pdf

Each year it is updated with new and/or updated information.

Monday, February 6, 2012

GE Disclosures

The last couple years have been very busy for schools, especially schools in the for-profit sector. New rules and changes to existing rules have kept schools very busy in staying in compliance. Along with these rules (which are too many to mention in one post) is the Disclosures rule.

All schools that offer gainful employment programs (which is almost exclusively for-profit schools, which I'll explain in another post) have to disclose certain pieces of information on the previous award year. Placement rates, on-time graduation rates, median loan debt, median institutional loan debt, and cost are all to be mentioned, and each of these categories are to be separated by program. These disclosures have to be a school's website, and not hidden on the website either (so, a school can't create a hidden link to the information). Any advertising that specifically mentions a school's programs has to include this information too. The Department of Education then specified that it's impossible to put all that information on a flyer, billboard, or a TV/radio ad. Schools have to give the direct link to where the information can be found. For example, we can't say "for information regarding placement rates, on-time graduate rates, median loan debt, and cost, visit metrobusinesscollege.edu." It has to be the exact page, so we would have to say "metrobusinesscollege.edu/GainfulEmploymentDisclosures".

It's not much different than a commercial with a car driving all crazy on the road, and at the bottom of the screen, the company making the commercial has to put a phrase like "Stunt driver on a course. Do not attempt", or a medication commercial that has to list all the side effects. The disclosures are supposed to inform prospective and currently enrolled students of the programs at a school, and whether they choose to look at the information is voluntary, but a school has to make the information available.