The U.S. Department of Education this week asked colleges and universities not to move up their deadlines for applying for financial aid. In theory, colleges could do so this year because of the adoption by the government of "prior prior year," a policy in which students may apply for financial aid based on family income from a year earlier than has been possible in the past. A letter sent to colleges by Ted Mitchell, the under secretary of education, asked colleges to publicize this change, and to use the change to provide students with earlier information on their aid eligibility. But the letter also asked colleges not to move up any of their key deadlines in the aid process. Moving up aid deadlines could "put undue pressure on high school seniors to rush through the financial aid and college admissions process." And such changes, Mitchell wrote, could particularly hurt low-income students, "who often have the least amount of information" about applying to college and seeking aid.
A statement from the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators suggested that the Education Department's request may be problematic to many colleges. "The letter does not address the inherent conflict that can arise between advising schools to provide students 'with financial aid packages as early as possible' but also telling them to 'not to move any priority financial aid deadlines earlier than your deadlines for recent years.'" the statement says. "For many schools, particularly those with institutional aid, providing a package without moving a priority deadline is not functionally possible, with the alternative being first-come, first-serve packaging -- a detrimental option for low-income students. If having a priority deadline means the school does the bulk of its packaging after the deadline, a later deadline precludes early award packages."