PJ and PPY By Sarah Bright

My sister and I were raised by a single dad, which was considered a unique family structure in the 1980’s. As a result, we have always been close.  During my last years of high school my dad remarried, and my step-mom and sister joined our group.  Those with blended families know it takes time to work out the kinks (there is hope ~ we tease that twenty years later we all get along!).  To add to the stress of a new household size, at this same time, my dad’s company closed, laying him off from work.  He used this unfortunate event as motivation to return to college full-time to begin a new profession.  Concurrently, my sister, who is one year older than me, was graduating from high school and enrolling in the same college as my dad.  A year later I joined them.  All three of us attended the same college simultaneously!

Until transitioning into the financial aid profession, I did not fully comprehend the important role our offices play on a college campus. When working with students, I try to reflect on my own life experiences, like those years when my dad, sister, and I were enrolled at the same college.  Professional judgments may not have been available twenty years ago, but if they had been, our family would have benefited from one.

As a result of prior-prior year, aid offices anticipate an increase in professional judgment requests. As financial aid professionals, our offices are often overworked and understaffed, drawing attention to the burden created by extra efforts required to do special circumstance adjustments.

On the flipside, many of us feel inundated with regulatory requirements, leaving little room for flexibility. Luckily, the Department of Education permits a great amount of ownership related to professional judgment determinations, allowing schools to decide which circumstances to consider and their steps for calculating income.

During this next year, our goal is to take time to further consider those families that would benefit from a professional judgment and revisit the Dear Colleague guidance * related to topics like the use of projected or actual income and the option to zero out unemployment earnings. Also, we hope to spread the word to other departments on campus about options for students with circumstances differing from 2 years ago.  I hope you will do the same.

* In Dear Colleague Letters GEN-09-04, GEN-09-05, and GEN-16-03, the Department issued special guidance concerning the use of professional judgment for persons who are receiving unemployment benefits in a period of economic hardship. This continues to be in effect.

Sarah Bright is MASFAP’s Secretary.

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