NASFAA Survey Highlights Increase in Pandemic-Related Financial Aid Appeals

More Than Half of Respondents from Financial Aid Offices Anticipate the Number of Requests to Somewhat or Greatly Increase Through December

Contact: Erin Powers
Director of Marketing & Communications 
(202) 785-6959 
[email protected]

WASHINGTON, DC, OCT. 8, 2020 — With the pandemic still underway, financial aid offices at colleges around the country are seeing a significant increase in financial aid appeals from students and families experiencing economic hardship. The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) recently surveyed a subset of its membership to learn more about how COVID-19 has impacted the number of requests for re-evaluation of financial aid offers schools have received and gauge how institutions are handling the increases.

The analysis of a student's financial need for federal financial aid is based on a standardized assessment, but on a case-by-case basis financial aid administrators have the authority to make a professional judgment to override the student's dependency status, adjust data elements used to calculate the student's expected family contribution, or revise the student's cost of attendance to more accurately reflect the student's true financial need and costs.

The survey results, published today, follow up on NASFAA’s June 2020 survey in which members reported anticipating a large increase in requests for professional judgment. Respondents for the September 2020 survey consisted of individuals from financial aid offices at 212 public, private, community college, and proprietary institutions of higher education across the country. The survey revealed: 

  • 59% of respondents saw a somewhat or great increase in requests for professional judgment between March 1, 2020 and Sept. 21, 2020. 

  • Larger schools saw more dramatic increases in professional judgment requests when compared to smaller institutions, with 84% of schools with a full-time equivalent (FTE) enrollment above 20,000 reporting a somewhat or great increase in these requests.

  • While growth in these requests varied across sectors, the largest increase was seen among nonprofit institutions, with 68% of respondents from nonprofit institutions reporting a somewhat or great increase, including 35% that experienced an increase of 50% or more.

Many institutions had been anticipating these increases in appeals since the economic impact of the pandemic started to come into focus. As such, roughly one quarter of respondents (23%) reported their office has been proactively reaching out to students to inform them about the professional judgment process, while an additional 15% are considering doing so and another 23% reported that they were already doing such outreach before the pandemic.

"In the face of this national crisis, financial aid administrators across the country are attempting to fairly, justly, and expeditiously evaluate requests for additional financial aid funds, while remaining in compliance with federal guidelines," said NASFAA President Justin Draeger. "While institutions do their job, Congress and the Department of Education must provide additional latitude and clarity — as they’ve done during other times of crisis — on the use of professional judgement during this time of economic turmoil," he said.

Following the Great Recession, financial aid administrators were granted the authority to zero out income and/or unemployment benefits from a student’s expected family contribution calculation, but Congress and the Department of Education have yet to issue guidance explicitly permitting this treatment for those impacted by the pandemic. According to the survey, 80% of respondents said their office would take these steps if Congress or the Department allowed it. 

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. Or, to speak with a NASFAA spokesperson, contact NASFAA Director of Marketing and Communications Erin Powers. 


The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) is a nonprofit membership organization that represents more than 28,000 financial aid professionals at nearly 3,000 colleges, universities, and career schools across the country. NASFAA member institutions serve nine out of every 10 undergraduates in the United States. Based in Washington, D.C., NASFAA is the only national association with a primary focus on student aid legislation, regulatory analysis, and training for financial aid administrators. For more information, visit

Publication Date: 10/8/2020

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