The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) does not provide families with a place to explain special circumstances affecting their ability to pay for the student’s education. The Federal Need Analysis Methodology (FM) is a rigid formula with no provisions for exceptions. To remedy this, Congress, through The Higher Education Act (HEA) of 1992, delegated to school’s financial aid administrators to make professional judgment decisions when there are special or unusual family or student circumstances that may call for adjustments in determining a student’s eligibility for financial aid. Circumstances requiring professional judgment will be analyzed on a case-by-case basis and will be documented.
Professional judgment refers to the authority of a school’s financial aid administrator to make adjustments to the data elements on the FAFSA.
The Director for Financial Aid may exercise professional judgment and change elements in the federal need analysis to account for circumstances that he/she feels have not been adequately considered in the original FAFSA. The Director for Financial Aid has the final authority in making professional judgment decisions. There is no appeal. By law, neither the school’s president nor the U.S. Department of Education can override the financial aid administrator’s decision. (Higher Education Act of 1965, Sections 479A and 480(d) (7).
Circumstances that may warrant a professional judgment decision include, but are not limited to the following:
- Parent’s death or divorce for dependent students; death of or divorce from spouse of independent students.
- Significant loss of income/loss of employment
- Loss of untaxed income/benefits (e.g. disability, child support, or other benefits)
- Excessive medical expenses (not covered by insurance)
- One-time taxable income used for life changing event (e.g. IRA, pension distribution)
- Other special circumstances not listed
Circumstances that are NOT considered extenuating include, but are not limited to:
- Standard living expenses (e.g. utilities, credit card payments, children’s allowances, etc.)
- Mortgage payments
- Car payments
- Credit card or other personal debts
- Vacation expenses
- All other discretionary expenses
Budget adjustment for computer purchase:
The U.S. Department of Education permits institutions to include in a student’s Cost of Attendance (COA) the purchase of a computer for educational use. The Financial Aid Office will include this expense by increasing the student’s Cost of Attendance, upon request, and according to the following policy:
- The maximum allowance for purchase of a computer is $3,000, which may include the cost of a printer and maintenance contract.
- A student may receive this allowance only once as an undergraduate and once as a graduate student.
- Additional purchases of software, printer supplies, online service fees etc. will be assumed under the allowances already included in the COA for books and supplies.
- In order to have the cost of the purchase of a computer added to COA, the student must provide a dated, itemized estimate of the cost of the proposed purchase.
- A petition for this change should be submitted no later than April 1 of the academic year during which it is requested.
Students are reminded that the overall cost of a computer, which depreciates quickly, is almost prohibitive, if they intend to purchase it using student loan funds and pay for it over the course of 10 years.
Students that believe his/her circumstances may qualify for a professional judgment will need to complete the following steps. All special circumstances are evaluated on a case-by-case basis and must be documented.
- Students must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) prior to submitting the Special Circumstance Request form. A valid FAFSA must be filed according to the instructions provided by the Department of Education. Special circumstances will be considered only after the school has received a valid Student Aid Record (SAR). If the student has been selected for verification, the school must complete the verification process before considering any special circumstances.
- Students need to download and complete all sections of the Special Circumstance Request form.
- Students must provide documentation that supports the request for a professional judgement due to special circumstances as listed on the Special Circumstance Request form. Students should make every effort to obtain all the listed documentation, missing documentation may cause the request to be rejected. Additionally, the need may arise for students to submit documentation not listed on the request form.
- Students need to submit the Special Circumstance Request form and all supporting documentation to the Financial Aid Office.
- Once a complete documentation package has been received by the University, the Director of Financial Aid will review all documentation and make a determination. The decision is final and not subject to appeal. Students will be notified in writing of the decision and will include the date of the decision and the signature of the Director of Financial Aid.
Professional judgment adjustments may increase or decrease a student’s Estimated Family Contribution (EFC). Specified adjustments may be made to data elements, but not to the formula. Any adjustments made to the FAFSA, as a result of a request for a professional judgment decision, may delay or change the financial aid package.