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Colleges are seeing a leveling off in the number of requests from students and families to adjust their financial aid eligibility following a slight increase during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the results of an annual survey from the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators. 

About 26 percent of administrators reported that requests for “professional judgments” somewhat increased in the last year. Those who reported an increase attributed it to the ongoing impacts of the pandemic, in addition to economic conditions unrelated to the pandemic and greater awareness about the review process following a change in federal law that requires institutions to do more outreach. 

The professional judgment process allows financial aid administrators to make case-by-case adjustments to a student’s financial aid in light of special circumstances. Administrators can make cost-of-living adjustments, for instance, and update a family’s income.

The Education Department’s Office of Inspector General criticized the professional judgment practices at the University of Southern California in an August report. The IG recommended that the university return as much as $68,343 in federal financial aid that students received following USC’s professional judgment. The department hasn’t made a final decision on that recommendation yet.

Twenty-six percent of respondents said they were concerned about the department reviewing their professional judgment policies following the USC audit, while 36 percent said they weren’t aware of the report. 

Just over 30 percent of respondents said they were waiting for the department’s final decision on USC before deciding whether to review their professional judgment policies. Another 10 percent have already made or are considering policy changes.