Posted Date: August 6, 2009

Author: William Leith, Service Director, Program Management, Federal Student Aid

Subject: August 2009 Enhancements to 2009-2010 FAFSA on the Web and FAA Access to CPS Online

As part of the U.S. Department of Education’s ongoing initiative to simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for students and parents, we plan to implement a number of enhancements to our FAFSA on the Web and FAA Access to CPS Online Web sites on August 16, 2009.

These enhancements build upon changes we made to FAFSA on the Web in May 2009, when we began providing applicants with more user-specific information earlier in the Web process, such as providing specific information about an applicant’s Federal Pell Grant (Pell Grant) eligibility based on his or her Expected Family Contribution (EFC). In May 2009 we also began reducing data elements and entry time for applicants by allowing male applicants who are 26 or older to skip question 22 because, based on their age, they can no longer register with Selective Service.

Collectively, the May and August 2009 enhancements simplify the FAFSA on the Web experience for students and their parents by using additional skip logic to reduce the number of questions many students must answer, by providing applicants with more user-specific information to assist in their postsecondary education planning, and by adding new paths in the application for students with special circumstances.

We are implementing changes to the FAA Access to CPS Online Web site in parallel with many of the FAFSA on the Web enhancements to assist financial aid administrators with their support of applicants.

The following enhancements will be implemented on August 16, 2009:

Improved Flow for Dependency Status Questions 

We are streamlining the dependency status question flow and skip logic in FAFSA on the Web for applicants we identify as independent due to responses to question 9 (“Your date of birth”) and/or question 16 (Marital status).

After the applicant answers questions 9 and 16, FAFSA on the Web will now determine if the student is independent based on the response to either question. If the student is determined to be independent because his or her answer to question 9 indicates that he or she is 24 or older, or the student’s answer to question 16 indicates that he or she is married, we will not present the applicant with dependency status questions 48-52 or 55-60. However, on the application summary page, and on output documents such as the Student Aid Report (SAR) and Institutional Student Information Record (ISIR), we will pre-fill a “yes” response to question 48 (“Were you born before January 1, 1986?”) and question 49 (“As of today, are you married? [Answer “Yes” if you are separated, but not divorced.]”).

Other enhancements related to the dependency status questions include the following:

  • FAFSA on the Web will now require all applicants, dependent or independent, to respond to dependency status questions 53 (“Do you have children who will receive more than half of their support from you between July 1, 2009, and June 30, 2010?”) and 54 (“Do you have dependents [other than your children or spouse] who live with you and who receive more than half of their support from you, now and through June 30, 2010”?). Schools requested this change in order to confirm that the applicant reported consistent information about his or her household size.
  • Because we no longer present all applicants with dependency status question 50 (“At the beginning of the 2009-2010 school year, will you be working on a master’s or doctorate program…?”), FAFSA on the Web will now require all applicants to answer question 27 (“Will you have your first bachelor’s degree before July 1, 2009?”). This will provide us with the information we need to determine if the student is enrolled in an undergraduate course of study and is eligible for a Pell Grant.

Enhanced Special Circumstances Process for Homeless Individuals 

Beginning with the 2009-2010 Award Year, a dependent student who has special circumstances can submit his or her FAFSA on the Web without parental income and asset information. An EFC is not calculated until the financial aid administrator determines that valid special circumstances exist and performs a dependency override. If valid special circumstances do not exist, the student must provide parental data in order to receive a calculated EFC.

To enhance the process by which certain dependent applicants can bypass the parental questions on FAFSA on the Web, and to further streamline the dependency status questions for all applicants, we are adding a new screening process related to the homeless youth dependency status questions (questions 58-60).

Our analysis shows that so far, less than one-fourth of one percent of applicants have become independent due to homelessness in 2009-2010. To simplify the process for the vast majority of applicants who do not answer “Yes” to the homeless youth dependency questions, as well as to offer the special circumstances path to all students who are homeless or at risk of being homeless, we are adding a screening question prior to questions 58-60.

If a student answers “No” to all previous dependency status questions (questions 48-57), we first ask the student whether he or she is homeless or at risk of becoming homeless:

  • If the applicant answers this new screening question “No”—he or she is not homeless or at risk of becoming homeless—FAFSA on the Web skips questions 58-60 (and auto-fills the responses with “No”) and the student must provide parental data.
     
  • If the applicant answers the screening question “Yes”—he or she is homeless or at risk of becoming homeless—we next check his or her date of birth. The applicant’s date of birth is necessary to determine whether he or she must answer questions 58-60 (these questions only apply to homeless youth, defined as 21 years of age or younger).

    • If the applicant is 21 or younger, he or she is prompted to answer questions 58-60. As has always been the case, if the applicant answers one or more of these questions affirmatively, he or she is independent and need not provide parental data.

    • If the applicant is 21 or younger and answers the screening question affirmatively, but then provides “No” responses to questions 58-60, we explain the special circumstances process to the applicant and indicate he or she will need to follow up with his or her financial aid administrator. If the applicant confirms he or she is homeless or at risk of being homeless, he or she will be permitted to skip the parental income and asset questions.

    • If the applicant is 22 or 23 years of age and answers the screening question affirmatively, he or she will not be presented with questions 58-60 because, as stated earlier, these dependency questions only apply to homeless youth (defined as 21 or younger). Instead, we explain the special circumstances process to the applicant and indicate he or she will need to follow up with his or her financial aid administrator. If the applicant confirms he or she is homeless or at risk of being homeless, he or she will be permitted to skip the parental income and asset questions.

Note: In all cases where we inform otherwise dependent students that they can submit the FAFSA without parental data, an EFC will not be calculated until the financial aid administrator determines that valid special circumstances exist and performs a dependency override. If valid special circumstances do not exist, the student must provide parental data in order to receive a calculated EFC.

Additional Special Circumstances Option for Unsubsidized Loans

In addition to the new screening process for the homeless youth dependency questions, we are also enhancing the special circumstances process to include an option for students who are completing the FAFSA with the sole intention of receiving a unsubsidized loan under the Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program or the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan (Direct Loan) Program.

The Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) of 2008, P.L. 110-315, provides a financial aid administrator with the authority to use his or her professional judgment to award an unsubsidized loan to a dependent student when that student's parent or parents have stopped providing financial support for the student and refuse to provide parental information on the FAFSA.

Applicants in these situations must first enter the special circumstances process on FAFSA on the Web that is presented to applicants who have answered “No” to all dependency status questions. Following the initial page of guidance about special circumstances, FAFSA on the Web will now include the option “I do not have a special circumstance but I am unable to provide parental information.” If the applicant selects this option, he or she is taken to a new special circumstances page that explains the unsubsidized loan process. If the applicant confirms he or she wants to be considered for special circumstances, he or she will be permitted to skip the parental income and asset questions.

Note: The applicant’s response to the homeless youth screening question or his or her selection of the unsubsidized loan option will not be displayed in the FAA Access to CPS Online Web site. We are, however, revising onscreen text and help text to indicate the new scenarios under which otherwise dependent students can complete and submit a FAFSA on the Web application without parental data. In all cases, the Special Circumstances Flag on the ISIR will be set to 1.

School-Specific Data Added 

We are updating the Web processes for Federal School Code selection, the electronic Student Aid Report (e-SAR), and the confirmation page to display the graduation, transfer, and retention data associated with the Federal School Codes selected by the applicant. This information, which will also be added to paper SARs, provides applicants with more detailed information regarding the schools they are considering attending.

Help for Applicants Who Hit Reject 20 

We are updating the confirmation page and end-of-entry pages displayed for applicants who receive Reject 20, which is triggered when the student or parent indicates his or her tax filing status is “will not file” but reports income that is above the minimum threshold for filing a return. These pages will include a Web link to the appropriate IRS 1040 publication explaining the requirements and income thresholds for filing a federal tax return.

If You Have Questions

We believe these enhancements will further improve the FAFSA on the Web experience for our student applicants and their families. Thank you for your support of this initiative to simplify the application process for federal student aid.

If you have questions regarding this message, contact CPS/SAIG Technical Support at 800/330-5947 (TDD/TTY 800/511-5806) or by e-mail at CPSSAIG@ed.gov.

   

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