The number of college and university financial aid offices reporting an increase in requests for professional judgment (PJ) has continued to increase as the COVID-19 pandemic stretches into its seventh month, according to a newly released survey from NASFAA.
The survey, completed by 8% of primary contacts at NASFAA member institutions, aims to provide additional information on how COVID-19 has impacted the number of PJ requests that aid offices have received this year, as well as gauge how institutions are responding to increases in requests and serves as an follow-up to a June report.
Overall, 59% of respondents for the September survey indicated that they saw a somewhat or great increase in their PJ requests between the period of March 1, 2020 through Sept. 21, 2020. Just over one quarter (29%) reported that the number of requests was somewhat or significantly higher than anticipated, while 35% said the number was what they anticipated.
While institutions of all sizes are seeing an increase in their PJ requests, the degree of growth has varied across institutional size. For example, 84% of respondents from schools with full-time equivalent enrollment (FTE) above 20,000 reported a somewhat or great increase, including 28% that experienced an increase of 50% or more, while 57% of respondents from schools with FTE between 1,000 and 4,999 reported a somewhat or great increase, including 25% that experienced an increase of 50% or more. Although increases in PJ requests were seen across all sectors, the largest increase was among nonprofit institutions, where 68% of respondents reported a somewhat or great increase, including 35% that experienced an increase of 50% or more.
Further, institutions have been anticipating these increases and making preparations accordingly. Roughly one quarter of respondents (23%) said they have begun reaching out to students proactively about PJ since the onset of COVID-19, while an additional 15% are considering doing so and another 23% were already doing such outreach before COVID-19..
Schools are also anticipating further increases this fall. Looking forward, 58% of respondents anticipate their PJ requests will somewhat or greatly increase for the period between Oct. 1, 2020 and Dec. 31, 2020 as compared to last year’s requests.
NASFAA’s survey also reported a total of 83% of respondents are either currently offering or considering providing staff with training on implicit and unconscious bias as it applies to PJ decisions — 68% were already offering this staff training before the coronavirus outbreak.
Respondents are also looking for additional federal or departmental clarity — 80% of respondents reported their office would zero out income and/or unemployment benefits if Congress or the Department of Education (ED) explicitly permitted it, as they did with the 2009 GEN-09-05 guidance in the wake of the Great Recession. Under 50% of respondents began taking this action during COVID-19 or are considering doing it.
Still, it is unclear when Congress will pass its next pandemic relief legislative package. Election season is now fully underway and the monthslong coronavirus relief negotiations between Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have sputtered, with President Donald Trump announcing an end to ongoing negotiations. Congress is now unlikely to consider a spending measure until early December, but much on the aid front remains up in the air, potentially subject to change based on the economy and ongoing fallout of the pandemic.
For more information and resources on how the spread of the novel coronavirus is impacting student financial aid, please refer to NASFAA's COVID-19 Web Center.
Publication Date: 10/8/2020