Education Dept. Encourages Student-Aid Officers to Reach Out to Struggling Families

April 02, 2009

Washington — The U.S. Education Department released a “Dear Colleague” letter today encouraging financial-aid administers to consider the special circumstances that students and families face during the recession.

While families can always ask their financial-aid office to exercise professional judgment, which allows it to adjust student aid to reflect a family’s financial circumstances not reflected on the student’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, many families do not realize this. The letter encourages financial-aid administrators to reach out to students and families who may be in trouble.

The letter also clarifies what kinds of circumstance could call for professional judgment: “A changed circumstance certainly includes the loss of a job or a reduction in work hours or wages, but it also includes, for example, the income loss associated with a prospective student’s decision to leave the work force or to reduce work hours in order to return to school.”

Professional judgment must be exercised on a case-by-case basis, the department said, and requires documentation of the changed circumstances. —Beckie Supiano