Early FAFSA, with its “prior-prior year” (PPY) and potential C Code 399 issues, were hot topics at the 2016 National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) conference. It was enough to make Jennifer Buckles hear early storm-warning alerts in her head.
The Director of Financial Aid at The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC) knew her staff of 17 was in for trouble if she couldn’t figure out how best to handle the forecasted deluge of uncertainty, confusion, and upset students who would likely be asked to jump through more hoops—and/or potentially lose the financial aid they were counting on.
A Perfect Storm: PPY & Early FAFSA
The transition to early FAFSA and PPY has created a perfect storm of unintended consequences that will last exactly one year—and potentially hit returning students the hardest.
It’s a one-time situation in which two aid years (2016‑17 and 2017‑18) will use income tax return information from 2015. A new Comment Code 399 is generated that requires schools to compare that two-year-old income data if it doesn’t jibe with information previously filed by the student. The Department of Education flags the application, but it’s up to the school to determine if the flag is valid, make the needed corrections, and adjust the amount of aid awarded to the student based on updated income information.
The Benefit and Burden of Early FAFSA
Financial Aid professionals agree that the idea behind early FAFSA is a good one—streamlining access to college by accepting aid applications as early as October, rather than January, and allowing applicants to use “prior-prior year” income tax returns to do so. The expectation is that early notification of aid awards will compel more students with financial need to enroll in college.
“No one doubts that early FAFSA and PPY are moves that will help students,” says Buckles. “I was just really skeptical that it would all run smoothly. We all were.”
From her years of experience working with students and helping them fill out their FAFSAs, “I know they rarely do the same thing from one year to the next,” Buckles explains. “So I quickly realized there could be a lot of students with conflicting income information—and a lot more work for us.”
C Code 399: A New Roadblock
“When there’s a C Code 399, everything comes to a stop.”
“When there’s a C Code 399, everything comes to a stop,” Buckles says, noting that aid is withheld until the application is cleared—potentially keeping students from starting class. “The student gets frustrated and believes we’re the bad guys; that we’re the ones putting up yet another roadblock to college.”
But roadblocks and frustrated students aren’t part of UTC Chancellor Steve Angle’s strategic plan. “He’s all about serving the students,” Buckles notes, “and he’s very interested in making our processes efficient so students can easily navigate through them. He wants them to achieve success—and he wants us to help make that possible.”
CampusLogic Helps Put Students First
Bolstered by her chancellor’s focus on serving students, while also seeking shelter from the forecasted conflicting-information storm, Buckles sat in on a CampusLogic presentation during that fateful NASFAA conference. She learned that CampusLogic could bring big benefits to her students. The financial aid software suite—specifically StudentFormsSM and AwardLetterSM—would help UTC streamline the FinAid application process, ensure aid was awarded efficiently, and positively impact retention.
Even better for her short-term concerns was the new 399 Workbench—a feature added to StudentForms specifically for clearing 399 flags during this transitional year of early FAFSA.
“It wasn’t a hard sell” when she returned to campus, she says. “We all knew this was the way to keep our students and staff happy—and our processes compliant.” Buckles recently shared her experiences with early FAFSA issues in a WebClinic.
399 Workbench to the Rescue
Last October, well before full functionality of the CampusLogic platform was live at UT-Chattanooga, Buckles’ team was uploading ISIRs. By early December, she reports, “we were up to our ears in 399s.” That’s when her FinAid office experienced the immediate value of 399 Workbench.
399 Workbench makes finding and clearing C Code 399 flags easy by:
- Automatically creating a queue of 399-flagged files for review and resolution.
- Employing a single page for comparisons between conflicting information.
- Highlighting the actual conflicting information (no more needle-in-a-haystack!).
- Enabling easy, personalized text/sms notifications to notify students that additional information is needed.
- Truly helping FinAid offices serve students.
Clear Skies Ahead for UT-Chattanooga
“I’m so glad we got a jump on all of this,” Buckles says. “It’s been a huge help—and I’m extremely thankful we don’t have to manually do all these 1:1 comparisons. That part alone makes CampusLogic totally worth the investment.”
For most of the nearly 11,000 students at UTC, financial aid awards will not be affected, Buckles notes. But by minimizing time spent on the anticipated 2% of applications that will be flagged with C Code 399, her staff can now spend more time counseling and assisting students who need extra support.
“For me, it spoke volumes that CampusLogic would create a tool like the 399 Workbench for something that’s, essentially, a one-year occurrence,” she adds. “It gave me great confidence that whatever else comes up down the road, CampusLogic will be there for us.”