A couple of big changes are coming the way of UCSB students, financially speaking. One makes it easier to apply for financial aid. One makes it easier to lose financial aid.
For those who receive financial aid—a number that’s increased in recent years—the process of completing the FAFSA (or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, for the uninitiated) just got easier.
According to Mike Miller, the director of UCSB Financial Aid, implementation of the Internal Revenue Service Data Retrieval Option simplifies the process for students, parents, and those whose job it is to wade through all the paperwork.
The student or parent completing the FAFSA “authorizes the data exchange,” said Miller, by clicking “yes” when he or she gets to the option asking if income information can be transferred from the IRS Web site onto the FAFSA application. “This eliminates the need for students to bring their IRS forms to us. It will be hugely beneficial.”
Students who filed during January 2011 can still use the data retrieval option. “Now, the only thing you have to put in is the verification form, which takes only five to 10 minutes to fill out,” Miller said. “This is something that financial aid has been waiting for 10 to 15 years. The IRS—because tax info is private—wouldn’t share the information with the Department of Education [previously].”
The system is safe, as well, according to Miller “There is a security model—so, if a student fudges the figures after the fact, they will be flagged and have to submit tax returns,” Miller said. “Any time there is a correction made, we have a record of it.”
However, for the system to save time for Miller and his staff, students have to actually use the new option. “In society as a whole, we like tangible things,” Miller said. “We’re worried more about parents [not using the option] than students. If students and parents use this, rather than shuffling papers back and forth, we can spend more time counseling students and parents about the financial aid process. The reason that I’m excited about it is because I think it will reduce anxiety and peel away the layers of complexity as well as reduce errors on the part of both students and our office.”
However, while knowledge of the IRS Data Retrieval Option will merely save students and Financial Aid workers time, other nationwide changes to the financial aid process could have more serious ramifications to students’ academic and financial lives.
Take, for example, Satisfactory Academic Progress, or SAP. SAP would essentially monitor students academic progress, requiring them to pass 12 or more units each quarter. Students who fail to meet the standards set by the SAP system would first be placed on a warning status, wherein their financial aid would not be affected. However, if they fail to pass the required amount of units in an academic year, students would receive a suspension status preventing them from receiving financial aid for an academic year.
“I don’t want to alarm people, but students need to pay special attention to financial aid notices,” Miller said. “Students need to understand that they need to both register for and complete the required units.”
Miller voiced an intention to do a town hall type event to further explain how SAP and other changes in financial aid will work. He voiced concern for students who may be struggling in the transition from academic life at their high school to that of a university, and who may be negatively impacted by the new financial aid requirements.
“This was not our idea, and we don’t have the option of waiving it or not,” Miller said. “It may have a trickle-down effect. Housing may be impacted … financial aid plays such a big part in students’ lives.”