By Amy Glynn
You know how every once in a while it can feel like a light bulb went off in your head? And I’m not just talking a little flicker of light, I’m talking about when a spotlight seems to turn on. I had one of those moments the other day while talking to a colleague. We were discussing Prior-prior Year (PPY) tax data on the FAFSA, and some of the challenges that may be caused by the new base year. During the discussion she said ‘you know, there are really two initiatives here, PPY and early FAFSA.’ That’s when my light bulb went off.
Somehow in my mind I had been combining both PPY and Early FAFSA into one bucket, as if they were all part of one initiative. In reality, they are completely separate. Not only are they separate, but the positive and negatives of each are vastly different.
Pros and Cons of PPY
Let’s talk PPY first. When a student completes his or her FAFSA for the upcoming year the form will request income information from two years ago, instead of one year ago. This in itself isn’t a big deal as the FAFSA provides comprehensive instructions for the student and allows for the transfer of data directly from the IRS using the Data Retrieval Tool (DRT). The new two-year prior window should allow students to complete the FAFSA more accurately, and with a higher utilization of DRT.
The only possible drawback is that there may be an increase in professional judgment requests to adjust financial data due to changed circumstances. Professional judgments can be a little overwhelming for students and time consuming for staff. So having a plan in place to educate students, and a plan on how you’ll process PJ requests efficiently are key. In general, PPY is a win-win for students applying for aid.
Pros and Cons of Early FAFSA
Early FAFSA, on the other hand, allows the FAFSA to be completed three months earlier this year, on October 1. The goal is to see a rise in early awarding and an increased transparency into cost and college affordability. The financial aid system has run along the current cycle for years—which makes implementing the new initiative complex. To shift to earlier completion and awarding involves organizations beyond the schools themselves, including technology vendors, The Department of Education, and State grant organizations, all of whom have input into awarding philosophies and resources. This is where all of the operational challenges for schools come into play. They need to upgrade systems, configure packaging engines, establish compliance rules/controls in the SIS, adjust student and staff expectations, and decide how to adjust award notifications and time frames, just to name a few.
Long story short, PPY is fairly straightforward with not much work for the schools resulting in a net positive. Early FAFSA will be difficult for the first year or two while everyone figures out how things will work and what will be the best for students. States, The Department, vendors, and schools need to figure out how they and their competitive set will need to set new expectations. The key to both is keeping in mind the end goal: earlier and more comprehensive communication with students about college affordability. If everyone keeps the end goal in mind it really doesn’t matter if you are implementing PPY or Early FAFSA, because we will all make decisions that are best for students—though they won’t always be easy decisions to make.
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