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Cummings Introduces Legislation to Improve Student Access to Federal Financial Aid

Nov 14, 2013
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, introduced H.R. 3446 the FAFSA Fairness Act of 2013, to simplify and reform the complicated process for students to apply for and receive federal student financial aid when they do not have contact with their parents.

“I firmly believe that all qualified students should be able to attend college regardless of their financial or life circumstances,” said Cummings.  “Students who have left abusive homes, have been abandoned, have parents who are incarcerated, or who have other special circumstances that limit contact with their parents often find it difficult to apply for financial aid, and they sometimes abandon their goal of attending college instead of battling through a long and complicated process alone.  This bill will help students in these circumstances by ensuring that our financial aid process is not an unintended barrier to college.”

Original cosponsors of the legislation include Reps. John Tierney, Jared Polis, Keith Ellison, Frederica Wilson, Carolyn McCarthy, Carol Shea-Porter, and Charlie Rangel.

The key change in the FAFSA Fairness Act is a provision that would allow students who do not have contact with their parents or who meet other criteria established by educational institutions to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as “provisional independent” students. 

Currently these students must undergo a “dependency override” at each institution they apply to before being able to be considered for financial aid. This process, which can vary between institutions and must take place before students know their admission status, can be a barrier to college access for students with these difficult personal and financial circumstances. 

Under the legislation, these students would be able to submit data to the institutions they are applying to, and those institutions would calculate provisional financial aid packages before the dependency override process. This change would allow students to better understand their financial choices and would increase college enrollment as students would have more clarity when evaluating which college to attend.

The FAFSA Fairness Act would not increase the workload of college financial aid administrators or alter the discretion they exercise in determining eligibility for financial aid, but it would ease the financial aid application process for students and provide an incentive to complete the entire process and enroll in higher education.

Interest Groups Endorsing the FAFSA Fairness Act of 2013:

National Association for College Admission Counseling, Young Invincibles, American Association of Community Colleges, American Association of State Colleges and Universities, Council for Opportunity in Education, National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, United States Student Association.

The FAFSA Fairness Act

·         The FAFSA Fairness Act would amend the Higher Education Act of 1965 (20 U.S.C. 1090) to increase access to federal student aid for students with uniquely difficult personal and financial circumstances, including students who:

o   have left home due to an abusive family environment;

o   are unable to locate their parents;

o   have parents who are incarcerated; or

o   meet other conditions determined by the institution to which they are applying that prevent them from accessing parental financial information.

·         Students with special circumstances like these are currently unable to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).  Instead, they must contact the institutions to which they are applying to undergo an arduous “dependency override” process before the institutions will prepare financial aid packages for them.  The “dependency override” process can vary between institutions, and some students abandon the override process because of its perceived complexity and difficulty.

o   Under the change proposed by the FAFSA Fairness Act, students would complete the override process only at the institutions at which they intend to enroll, instead of at every institution to which they apply.

·         Under this bill, students who do not have contact with their parents or who meet other special criteria established by educational institutions would complete the FAFSA as a “provisional independent.”  Students identified as “provisional independents” would be able to submit data to the institutions to which they are applying, and these institutions would calculate a provisional financial aid packages and provide them to students before the students initiate the dependency override process.  By enabling students to know the financial aid for which they would qualify at each of the education institutions to which they are applying, this bill would help students to make informed choices about institutions in which they choose to enroll and ensure they are incentivized to complete the federal aid override process.

o   Under the legislation, any aid package presented to a student who is a “provisional independent” would continue to be subject to a dependency override process and would not be binding.

This legislation would:

·         Provide more equitable access to federal student aid for students with uniquely challenging financial circumstances by breaking down barriers that prevent some students from accessing aid.

·         Shift the timing of the existing dependency override process while ensuring that aid administrators can continue to exercise their professional judgment when determining the eligibility of students with special circumstances for financial aid.

This legislation would not:

·         Strip financial aid administrators of any flexibility or the responsibility to exercise professional judgment.

·         Limit the availability of financial aid options, counseling, or support services for any students.

·         Increase workloads for aid officers.

·         Affect the availability of counseling or support options for any student.

Supported by the National Association of College Admissions Counselors, Young Invincibles, American Association of Community Colleges, American Association of State Colleges and Universities, Council for Opportunity in Education, National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, United States Student Association

Issues: 
113th Congress