NASFAA Panel Highlights PPY’s Broad Support

By Katy Hopkins, Communications Staff

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:

  • Justin Draeger, president and CEO of NASFAA;
  • Nick Lee, senior program officer at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation;
  • Kim Cook, executive director of the National College Access Network; 
  • David Hawkins, executive director of educational content and policy at the National Association for College Admission Counseling; 
  • Christine Zuzack, vice president of state grant and special programs at the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency; and 
  • Francisco Valines, director of financial aid at Florida International University. 

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

Ted F | 6/5/2015 9:20:08 AM

Let's see NASFAA's Report (A Tale of Two Income Years) says changes to PPY would be "minimal" yet says 34% of those enrolled at schools serving large number of Pell recipients and 37% at community colleges would see changes I would not suggest that's minimal. They also say that the poorest students would benefit the most as they were "0" EFC before and they will be "0" w/ PPY...sure but with Congress attempting to freeze Pell funding and "other" student's EFCs declining that will be the very population that gets stiffed...AGAIN. For what? Perhaps the FAFSA is out two months earlier??? That assumes the Department moves up the FAFSA processing. Is this really the best policy for low income students?

Roseann A | 6/1/2015 8:35:58 AM

I agree with the comments here about the PJ workload and thought I must be missing something if "everyone else" (Broad Support) was on board with this. Glad to see I'm not the only one that's apprehensive about it. But I likely won't be collecting the prior year tax information for a PJ - we'd still use the school year information as it would be the most current (depending on the timing.)

Carson W | 5/29/2015 3:59:49 PM

I agree Jon J and it always amazes me to see these types of articles. Most these folks have probably never worked directly with parents and students doing verification and handling PJ adjustments in an actual work setting. The biggest laugher of the year was Lamar Alexander busting out the paper FAFSA. If you think these folks are out of touch, check out the folks that are in charge of education committees in Congress.
I wonder if history will repeat itself with year round Pell?

Jon J | 5/29/2015 11:52:02 AM

Has it occurred to anybody what doing all these additional PJ appeals is going to mean? If a parent tells me that (surprise!) they're maybe not making the same money they did two years ago- guess what kind of documentation I'm going to be demanding to approve that appeal? That's right, their PRIOR year tax return transcript. Families are still going to have to collect the same materials they would have for verification anyway, but now they're also going to have to write some long letter and complete one of our appeal forms along with it. This will mean more work for us AND for them.

Jon J | 5/29/2015 11:46:09 AM

I'd rather do a dozen verification forms than do one more income appeal. That's all our job is going to become is doing PJ, all the time. Using two year old data is the worst idea I've ever heard, but you can bet NASFAA is going to railroad it through. Funny- I thought they were supposed to be representing OUR interests?

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