Most financial aid offices at colleges and universities in a survey said students are increasingly asking them to take into account the financial hardships they’re facing during the coronavirus pandemic so they can receive more aid.
Financial aid administrators are allowed under federal law to use their professional judgment to reduce the income used to calculate how much assistance a student can receive. For instance, the administrators can lower a student’s income information to reflect when they go on unemployment if they lose a job, potentially increasing their financial aid.
About 60 percent of 212 financial aid officers surveyed by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators said they’ve seen a “great” increase in such requests since March, reflecting the struggles many students are facing.
However, the association said administrators wished they could do more. Currently, if a student loses their job, administrators still have to count their unemployment benefits as income.
But in 2009, at the end of the Great Recession, the Education Department allowed aid administrators to not count a student’s unemployment benefits as income. That further reduced the calculation of how much income the student has and increased the amount of aid they could receive.
The association, as well as bills in Congress, has called for allowing administrators to do the same thing during this recession, but neither Congress nor the Education Department has given the permission.
About 80 percent of the aid offices, at the public, private, community college and proprietary institutions surveyed, said they would count as zero the incomes of students on unemployment, if they were allowed.
"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," NASFAA president Justin Draeger said in a statement.