Monday, June 25, 2012

Policies & Procedures Manual

What is a Policies & Procedures Manual?

This is something that students aren't really aware of, but FA professionals know all about. A Policies & Procedures Manual is the ultimate rule book for a Financial Aid office. This is literally the collection of rules and policies for the FA office of a school. There are many places to find FA rules (FSA Handbook, Federal Reigster, etc.), but each school has differing rules which have to be kept somewhere.

The P&P Manual is very important to the operation of the FA office. Most issues that come up in the day to day routine can be fixed using information from the manual. New hires are typically given a manual to read over and study in order to become familiar with the school's FA policies and procedures. When the Dept of Education comes into the school, a P&P Manual is the first thing they will ask for.

So, you might wonder what's in one of these manuals. There is no one template or preferred style for the manual. Some schools have information in catalogs, on their website, in pamphlets, or in handbooks. The collection of these items is their manual. I always preferred to have all the information in one place so that if it's asked for by the Dept of Education, we can hand them a binder with the info included.

Our P&P Manual has five sections and three appendixes. The sections are:
  1. Introduction - This section has addresses of the campuses, association memberships, code of conduct, charges and fees, and definitions of credit hours, academic years, and students statuses.
  2. Practices of FA Administration - This section has admissions practices, Satisfactory Academic Progress, Leave of Absence and withdrawal policies, crime awareness, and drug prevention.
  3. FA Programs - This section has information on student eligibility and information on the different FA programs that are offered at the campuses.
  4. General Administration - This section has information on the FA job description, packaging information, general FA appointment interviewing procedures, dependency override policy, professional judgment policy, verification procedures, default prevention, student status confirmation reporting, and student file documentation.
  5. Fiscal Management - This section has information on requesting funds, institutional refund policy, and Return of Title IV Funds.
The three appedixes are:
  1. Common FA Acronyms and Terms
  2. Online Resources
  3. Supplementary Documents - This section includes citizenship information, default management plan, organizational chart, pell grant payment schedules, sample loan repayment chart, regional Dept of Education office information, and an Exit and an Entrance Counseling booklet.
The manual itself should be updated annually since rules from the government update annually as well. Sometimes there won't be many changes, and sometimes there will be a lot of changes. In the last few years, there have been major changes, so it's difficult to make sure everything has been updated. However, it is a necessary element of the FA office.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Diploma Mills

In the media recently, there has been some attention to diploma mills, and there have also been some people that call legitimate places diploma mills. But there are real diploma mills online, and people should be aware of what they are and what they do.

To explain, a diploma mill is a place that takes money to give you a high school diploma. These are all online, which is the way they get around most laws. Even though there is a push to ban these companies, it's hard to ban something that is based outside of the US. What do I mean? Most of these websites that offer diplomas are actually from other countries, but pretend to be from here in the US.

So what do you look for to determine if it's real or not? There are some obvious signs.
  1. If you pay a fee, take an evaluation, and receive your diploma in 2 weeks, then it's not legitimate.
  2. Look at the accrediting agencies. Sometimes these websites list what entities accredit them, but they aren't always real entities. A good way (not always true, but most of the time) to tell if the accrediting agency is bogus is to see if the US and/or state Dept of Education recognizes the agency. Some legitimate agencies aren't recognized, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't look with a critical eye.
  3. Look to see if they offer discounts. Schools aren't supposed to offer discounts because of the way tuition is handled. There are scholarships and grants that help pay for tuition, but since that's from an outside entity usually, it is different. Schools are the grocery store; if there are deals, you might want to think twice.
  4. If the site tells you what's in your graduation package before you complete, then there is a problem. One site says you will receive 1 high school diploma, 2 transcripts, 4 education verification letters, 1 certificate of membership, 1 certificate of distinction, and 1 award of excellence. See any problems there? How does anyone know you will qualify for a certificate of distinction or award of excellence before you've actually done anything?
  5. Look in the FAQ sections and look to see what they say in regards to a GED. Many times they will actually say that it's a good idea to get a GED in addition to their diploma. Why waste $400 on a fake diploma when a $50 GED will actually get you somewhere?
  6. If you get to choose the year in which you "graduated", then it is fake.
  7. If you are getting credit based on "life experience" and not actually taking a rigorous academic program, then it is a fake. You actually have to take tests to prove you know information and you have to actually earn credit.
  8. If you can't actually find a place where the school is "located" (meaning where the owner or parent company or any physical address of any kind), then it is fake. Most of these "schools" are actually run by people not in the US. One particular "school" is run from a man in Pakistan, and there are no faculty of any kind.
  9. A big red flag is if the school is self-accredited. It's one thing to fool students by saying you're accredited by bogus agencies, but telling them that they are accredited by nobody and being proud of it should be a major sign for you to stay away. How can they justify their curriculum if no one is checking it over?
  10. If the transcript has actual grades for classes and all you took was a life experience assessment, then there is something fishy.
In the end, these sites try to make people think they can get a high school diploma without doing the work. It's much easier, safer, cheaper, and more beneficial to just go sit for the GED. The GED test is not offered online and you have to sit for it. It will definitely take you farther than a high school diploma that cost $200, $400, $700, or as much as $2500 but is really worthless.

Here are two news stories you may be interested in. These tell you what you need to know.

http://fcir.org/2010/12/22/virtually-worthless/
"Virtually Worthless" - Florida Center for Investigative Reporting

http://www.bbb.org/us/article/alleged-diploma-mill-program-traced-to-pakistan-32568
"Alleged Diploma Mill Program Traced to Pakistan" - KHOU Houston, from BBB's website

Monday, June 11, 2012

IRS Data Retrieval Codes

Another new element to the 2012-13 FAFSA is the way the IRS Data Retrieval informs the FA Administrator as to how the student used the IRS Data Retrieval system. Since the system was introduced in the 2009-10 award year, there have been codes printed on ISIRs that tell the FA Administrator how you used the system, but they have changed for the 2012-13 award year. Everytime there is a new transaction made on your FAFSA, a code is printed on it saying the status of your information that you entered. So, if you import your tax information and then you change it, the school will know. These codes (I believe) are printed only on the ISIR as opposed to the SAR.

These codes are as follows:

00 – Student/Parent was ineligible to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool and was therefore not presented with the option to use it in FAFSA on the Web.

01 – Student/Parent was presented with the option to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool in FAFSA on the Web and elected to use it, but did not transfer IRS data into the FAFSA.

02 – IRS data for the student/parent was transferred from the IRS and was not changed by the user prior to submission of an application or correction.

03 – IRS data for the student/parent was transferred from the IRS and changed by the user prior to submission of an application or correction.

04 – IRS data for the student/parent was transferred from the IRS and then changed by the user on a subsequent transaction.

05 – Student/Parent was presented with the option to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool in FAFSA on the Web, but did not elect to use it.

06 – IRS data for the student/parent was transferred from the IRS, but a subsequent change made the student/parent ineligible to use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool.

Blank – IRS Data Retrieval Tool not available in the application method utilized by the student/parent (such as paper FAFSA or FAA Access).

Monday, June 4, 2012

Financial Literacy

Students often have problems in their lives that complicate things, whether that be daycare, work, family, or just not being able to afford the bills. Sometimes these problems aren't as complicated as one might think. Once in awhile, it's just a lifestyle choice. One way to know if your troubles are really what you think they are is to research through financial literacy.

Financial literacy is a broad term for many subjects that concern both students and parents of students. Some of the subjects are just basic financial aid awareness, life choices, FA resources, money management, and other topics. I have seen students (and friends even) who complain they have no money and cry, saying they are about to have the electricity shut off or the water turned off or the gas turned off, but then they pull out the newest iphone. It's choices like that which will impact your future for years to come, and it's best to recognize and understand them as early as possible.

One of the best sites for financial literacy that I've seen is located at http://youcandealwithit.com/ . This is a website created by PHEAA, one of the servicer's currently handling federal Direct Loans. There is a section for borrowers and a section for parents. There is good information about financial aid in general to help you understand the terminology as well as the process itself. There is also information about repayment options, exit counseling, and money management.

I highly recommend you check it out!