Shifting to prior-prior year (PPY) income information on the FAFSA would have implications for financial aid administrators, admissions officials, students, and states -- and at a NASFAA panel discussion Thursday, representatives of each group said the benefits of the change would greatly outweigh any potential concerns.
The event built on NASFAA’s recent report, “Great Expectations: Implications of Implementing Prior-Prior Year Income Data for The FAFSA,” and featured:
In front of a packed room on Capitol Hill, the presenters discussed the potential of PPY to streamline the financial aid process and align aid awards with admissions decisions. Having a full picture of college options and their subsequent costs would greatly help students and families, and would eliminate some of the annual enrollment uncertainty institutions face as well, Hawkins said.
“Right now, a student in the fall is really shooting in the dark about whether he or she can afford a college or knowing the range of colleges to which he or she can apply,” Cook said. “...We don’t ask consumers to make [other] major purchases and investments on faith, hope, and ‘we’ll let you know in a few months.’”
Moving to PPY would also benefit states in their outreach efforts to residents, Zuzack said, though there are a few obstacles to hurdle first. A “minority” of states currently prohibit the use of PPY information, and would need to change their legislation. Some states would also have to adjust their calendars for the financial aid application process and take applications over a longer time period each year, she said.
Overall, the benefits to states “greatly outweigh” these concerns, Zuzack said.
Draeger noted that the financial aid community’s take on PPY has changed from 15 years ago, when there were concerns about data integrity. A NASFAA report in 2013, “A Tale of Two Income Years: Comparing Prior-prior Year and Prior-year Through Pell Grant Awards,” used real data and showed that, for the majority of students, PPY would not significantly alter their aid awards. That helped to coalesce the community behind the policy idea, Draeger said.
The biggest remaining concern among financial aid administrators is whether using PPY information would increase professional judgments (PJ), Valines said. While that may be an effect, PPY would also greatly decrease the need for verification, freeing up currently allocated staff and resources to devote to one-on-one PJ work with students.
“You’re not going to have more work; you’re changing the work you’re doing,” Valines said.
There are also lingering questions about the cost of the program, though panelists noted that might not actually be cause for concern. Costs would increase if more students applied to and enrolled in college -- which is the Obama administration’s goal and “the whole point of what we’re trying to do here,” Cook said.
“If the cost is attributable to more people going to college, then mission accomplished,” Draeger agreed.
PPY is catching on amid other policy drives to simplify financial aid forms and increase college access and success, creating an environment where change seems like a possibility, Lee said.
“We’re optimistic that we’re standing on the precipice of something that’s really going to help students access dollars they’re eligible for,” he added.
Publication Date: 5/29/2015