Sen. Durbin Addresses NASFAA Conference and ED Provides Updates, Takes Recommendations
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin(D-IL), who serves as the Majority Whip, shared his thoughts with NASFAA Conference attendees on the history and future of student aid, the student debt problem, workforce development and the DREAM Act.
Durbin highlighted his “Know Before You Owe Private Student Loan Act," which would require private student lenders to certify loans with schools, and another bill that would allow judges to dismiss private students loans in bankruptcy.
The Know Before You Owe act would amend the Higher Education Act and the Truth in Lending Act to require full certification by schools of private education loans, a provision long advocated by NASFAA and other higher education groups. Instead of the current student self-certification, the Know Before You Owe Act of 2012 would require lenders to obtain the student’s enrollment status and cost of attendance and the difference between the student’s cost and estimated financial assistance from the institution directly. The bill would also amend the definition of a private loan in TILA to exclude Title VII and VII Health and Human Services loans.
The “Fairness for Struggling Students Act” would eliminate the 2005 provision that amended the bankruptcy code to prohibit private student loans from being discharged in bankruptcy. NASFAA has expressed its support for the legislation.
As an original sponsor of the DREAM Act, Durbin advocated for a path to citizenship for qualified undocumented students raised in this country but not born here.
“This is a land of opportunity but it is also a land of generosity,” Durbin said. “And of people who do things large and small to help others, whether they’re new to this country or they’ve been here a long time, are really part of this American spirit that we enjoy and value so much.”
Durbin also commended President Obama’s recently issued executive order to halt the deportation of DREAM-eligible undocumented students.
“We’re not going to deport these kids, we’re going to give them a chance,” Durbin said. “For those who came here [as immigrants], they are part of our American family and our diversity that makes us so strong and gives us such a bright future. But what most immigrants come to this country with is a determination to work hard, take the toughest and dirtiest jobs and say to your kids, ‘Go to school’ that’s what’s going to make America’s next generation even stronger than this one.”
Following the breakfast with Sen. Durbin, conference attendees took part in interest sessions on topics ranging from the U.S. Department of Education’s new financial literacy counseling tool, a new financial aid administrator training credential, NASFAA’s collaboration with the Gates Foundation to evaluate the costs and benefits of prior-prior year.
An engaged group of conferees participated in a session on NASFAA’s recently launched NASFAA U training program. NASFAA U offers a suite of training materials designed to provide financial aid administrators with credentialed training through facilitator-led online courses, self-study guides, on-site training, state and regional boot camps and an online testing center. NASFAA training staff and President Justin Draeger fielded questions about the credentialing opportunities and program structure.
Gates Prior-Prior Year Study
In a late morning session moderated by NASFAA President Justin Draeger, Greg Ratliffe of the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation introduced Prior Prior Year (PPY) as a viable concept that may help improve college access for students and families.
NASFAA's Director of Research Gigi Jones noted that NASFAA's study, funded by Gates, was undertaken to assess whether students would truly benefit from the use of PPY tax data. Ratliffe said that NASFAA's ongoing study on this topic dovetailed nicely with the goals of Gates to improve student outcomes.
The potential benefits of using PPY tax data include earlier FAFSA completion, reduced verification and increase predictability. Jones also noted that the use of PPY partners well with the new IRS data retrieval tool. Jones noted that potential disadvantages could include less precision, increased professional judgments and the perception of additional complexity.
"PPY has implications for long-range planning, encouraging early awareness, and increased predictability for our students," said past national chair Dr. Barry Simmons of Virginia Tech. Simmons' institution was among those who are participating in NASFAA's PPY study. "One of the most pressing issues in higher education today is predictability for students," he added.
NASFAA Board member Brad Barnett of James Madison University noted that predictability starts with the federal budget: "For this to work, we need support for predictability at the congressional level, so we don't pull the rug out from students" who had a certain expectation of aid.
Financial Awareness Counseling Tool (FACT)
The Department of Education presented its new financial literacy tool to conference attendees, soliciting feedback and recommendations as ED continues developing the new counseling platform.
Students can access the Financial Awareness Counseling Tool using their FAFSA PIN. The tool allows students to access their personal federal loan history, calculate current college costs and future earnings and repayment. Financial aid administrators and servicers attending the session made a number of recommendations to the Department to improve the tool and better promote the President’s ramped-up Income-Based Repayment program as well as educate borrowers about limiting loan amounts where possible and to encourage borrowers to stay in contact with their servicers.
Conference attendees also suggested that ED target specific information to students by institution and program type as well as grade level. Others noted that the tool was often a bit too text-heavy and more interactive features, such as audio or video, could better help students retain the information. Attendees also reported that students are confused between this tool and the entrance counseling tool because of the placement on the StudentLoans.gov websites—some students are completing the FACT counseling when they are intending to do the entrance counseling.
ED readily acknowledged the recommendations and plans to improve upon the tool in the future.
What Faculty Advisors and Deans Need to Know About Financial Aid
This session highlighted the successes and struggles involved in working with academic departments to meet compliance requirements and offer good student service at Springfield College - School of Human Services which offers undergraduate and graduate degrees at 11 campuses in nine states.
Springfield College Associate Director of Financial Aid Allene Curtoe and Registrar Keith Ingalls discussed the challenges and benefits of collaborating across departments to identify at-risk students, implement early intervention practices and develop long-term working relationship to continue the trend.
The primary areas that affect financial aid eligibility and require some cooperation with other offices include academic standing, enrollment status, attendance, withdrawals, repeat courses, incompletes and courses outside degree requirements.
Curtoe noted that the financial aid office has a shared interest with academic offices to help students complete a program and often times maintaining a student’s financial aid eligibility is critical to that end. Not many academic staff and faculty are aware of the fact that to receive federal aid (and often state or institutional aid) the student must be attending eligible courses in an eligible program. If the student loses eligibility for taking courses outside their degree requirements, faculty lose a student and deans lose a seat and the student certainly does not benefit from losing their ability to attend courses.
Preventing students from losing financial aid eligibility is not therefore the sole responsibility of the financial aid office and collaboration with the registrar, academic counseling, student services and faculty, advisors and department heads can help form early warning signs to identify at-risk students and get them back on track.
ED Open Forum
In an open forum with conference attendees to discuss improving the financial aid process, the Department of Education clarified that a student who reaches the 600 percent Pell lifetime eligibility used (LEU) during an aid year may retain eligibility for FSEOG throughout the remainder of that same aid year.
An example would be a student who receives Pell during fall semester, but reaches the 600 percent maximum LEU. Although the student will not be eligible to receive additional Pell, the student can still receive FSEOG for remaining terms in that aid year.
To keep a student’s Pell history accurate in NSLDS for LEU tracking:
- Schools were reminded of the requirement to report within 30 days of a disbursement or adjustment of a Pell Grant, and were encouraged to report even earlier if possible.
- Schools were reminded of Pell reconciliation requirements.
ED said 2013-14 ISIRs will have all students’ LEU information, from 0 percent to 600 percent. ED also noted that the 2013-14 verification requirement to verify a student’s identity should be applied to a “very select group of people.” Using characteristics and patterns, ED will identify applicants suspected of attempting to commit fraud.
The Department also hopes to release guidance within the next two weeks regarding the inability of identity theft victims to retrieve IRS tax data to fulfill verification requirements.
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