"It's Here" – Early FAFSA From a Community College Perspective

PPY Blog HeaderBy Raul H. Lerma, executive director of financial aid at El Paso Community College

If there’s one thing I’ve learned working at a four-year institution for 25 years, and then coming to a community college, it is that they are very different. For example, I am still getting used to some of the nuances involved with “clock hour” programs. Being on the NASFAA Prior-Prior Year (PPY) Implementation Task Force, I have come to notice that, here too, there are some differences in how each type of school is addressing the coming of PPY and Early FAFSA.

I suppose I had a head start in getting my institution prepared for the big changes to come as a result of being on the task force. It’s been like getting “insider information.” Unfortunately, I’ve learned, “one-size-fits-all” does not apply to Early FAFSA and PPY implementation. Community colleges need to keep in mind that their student population is different from that of a four-year school, and as such may require different considerations concerning Early FAFSA and PPY. Below are some considerations for administrators at community colleges:

  • Early FAFSA/PPY may not be the “holy grail” for early applicants at a community college, since many of our students wait to apply for admissions up to the day before classes begin. And of course, along with that comes the completion of their FAFSA.
  • Having students fill out the correct year for the FAFSA maybe trickier under PPY, especially for students who apply to college at the last minute and may not get to file the FAFSA until October.
  • Since some students are likely to decide to come to school closer to its actual start, the pressure to provide early awards may not be as prevalent for community colleges. The work may be more spread out, and perhaps the greater challenge will be getting returning students to file early enough to get verification out of the way. 
  • Community colleges need to concentrate on communicating the need for new students, as well as returning students, to complete a FAFSA early, especially given the new ease of using PPY income data. Students and parents will appreciate an earlier award notice, even it if may be an estimate.
  • It may be easier to convince new students to apply early because this process will be all they know. Returning students might pose a different challenge since they are already accustomed to the later application filing date and will have to be “re-programmed.”

Since the change is coming (and quickly!), let’s make it as easy as possible for our students and our institutions. Here are some steps to take:

  • Concentrate on communication to make certain all the major institutional players know what is coming. The usual suspects for us include: Admissions; Registrar; New Student Orientation; Bursar; Financial Services; College Marketing, and our local Chamber of Commerce. Take advantage of relaying this information at any opportunity, such as New Student Orientation, Student Loan Entrance Counseling sessions, and any outreach activities.
  • Plan to have a major information campaign early, perhaps even as early as this month.
  • The task force has developed and compiled a wonderful set of tools that can be found in the PPY Toolkit. These are applicable to any type of school and can assist in developing helpful timelines.
  • Consider that some events, such as annual high school counselor training, will have to be moved up to coincide with the Early FAFSA.
  • Your annual FAFSA nights conducted at area high schools to assist students and parents in completing the FAFSA will probably begin earlier than usual, likely in October or November.
  • Remember the “quiet” and slow days before the holidays? They may become a thing of the past.

I am certainly curious to hear from my community college colleagues about any additional steps they are taking. In the famous words of Clint Eastwood in “Heart Break Ridge” we just have to “improvise, adapt, and overcome.”


Publication Date: 8/2/2016

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