The Department of Education is making it harder for colleges to increase financial aid awards for students whose families lost jobs or income during the coronavirus-fueled economic crisis, NPR reported.
The department has confirmed it is not using guidance issued by the Obama administration during the Great Recession that encouraged colleges to be proactive about adjusting student aid awards. The guidance, issued in April and May of 2009, encouraged financial aid officials to thoughtfully use their professional judgment to address changes in financial and family circumstances that would not be reflected on the student’s most recent Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and assured colleges they would not be punished for adjusting aid awards if they maintained appropriate documentation. In short, the 2009 guidance sought to give assurances to college officials who were reluctant to use their professional judgment to adjust awards because the department used the percentage of such professional judgment determinations as a factor in determining which colleges to audit.
The Education Department has characterized the Obama-era guidance as “outdated.” A department spokesperson told NPR it is "updating the issues presented by the guidance, given the pandemic and resulting economic downturn."
"I think financial aid offices are out there doing their best," Rachelle Feldman, associate provost of scholarships and student aid at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told NPR. "But the fear of audit, the change in guidance -- it's all very real and paralyzing."