News for Parents
It's a 'Student Thing'
Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) is a financial aid term that defines what criteria students must achieve to remain eligible for federal and state aid. The federal SAP policy differs from the policy for Pennsylvania state grants. For example, the Pennsylvania policy from PHEAA (Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency) does not take into account grade-point average whereas the federal policy does.
Federal SAP is reviewed for most students at the end of the spring semester. Students who we expect to be enrolled for the coming academic year are notified via letter or e-mail if they did not achieve federal SAP. PHEAA SAP is also reviewed at the end of spring semester, but only for students who will be enrolled, have been awarded a PHEAA Grant for the coming year, and had a previous PHEAA Grant. We are obligated to inform PHEAA of students who don’t satisfy PHEAA SAP, and then PHEAA notifies those students via e-mail and PHEAA’s Account Access. Full details of each policy are available on the Satisfactory Academic Progress page.
Sometimes we get questions from parents regarding specific reasons why a son or daughter did not attain SAP and what, if anything, can be done to regain SAP quickly. While we appreciate the concern many parents have and we are well aware that many parents contribute toward their students’ educational costs, the fact is that students’ academic performance determines whether they do or do not achieve SAP. Therefore, any questions about SAP for an individual student should come directly from that student so we can be sure our answers and explanations, and any opportunities for exceptions, are well understood by the student. Once that has happened and if a student informs us to also discuss his or her SAP review with a parent, we will do so. We thank you for your understanding on how we communicate the details of the very important SAP policies to students.
Completing the FAFSA
As many of you know, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a crucial first application for various types of financial aid, including Penn College scholarships, Federal Pell Grants, Direct Loans, and more. February and March are the ideal months to start planning for your student's 2013-14 FAFSA.
A couple of years ago, the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) was developed to make the FAFSA easier to complete and reduce the odds of applicant errors. Last year the DRT worked well for many parents and students, but others found they could not use it. Since then, the U.S. Department of Education, which oversees the FAFSA and regulates federal aid, and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) worked together with the goal of making the DRT function better. The result will hopefully allow a much greater percentage of parents and students to use the DRT for the 2013-14 FAFSA.
The downside of the improved DRT is a greater ‘lag time’ between the time a student or parent submits his or her 2012 IRS Tax Return and the time it is available to transfer key financial items to a FAFSA. That lag time is now three weeks. Nevertheless it is worth the wait!
We recommend that students and parents who need to complete 2012 IRS Tax Returns do so and submit them (or have their tax preparer submit them) electronically no later than mid-March. About three weeks later, students and parents can work together to complete and submit the students’ 2013-14 FAFSA and, in most cases, use the DRT. This will still allow students to meet Penn College’s priority FAFSA submission deadline of April 15.
Note that it is very important that parents and students do not change any of the FAFSA items transferred from the IRS by the DRT. Doing so defeats the purpose of the DRT!
The improved DRT still won’t work for everyone. Married parents who file separate tax returns, separated parents with joint returns, those who have had a change in marital status since 2012, and tax filers with amended returns are not eligible for the DRT. In addition, tax filers who complete their FAFSA too soon after electronically submitting their tax returns won’t be able to transfer IRS data. However, most of this latter group will be able to use the DRT if they try again in a few weeks.
In summary, here are important tips for your student’s FAFSA Application Process:
- Submit 2012 IRS Tax Returns electronically by mid-March
- Three weeks later and before April 15, complete and submit a 2013-14 FAFSA
- Use the IRS Data Retrieval Tool, if eligible
- Do not change any of the FAFSA items transferred from the IRS
- A FAFSA can be saved and then finalized and submitted on a later date (remember the password)
- Answer all the FAFSA’s financial questions that are not part of the IRS transfer, such as income from working
- Students submit their FAFSA after it’s complete and both student and one parent have signed it using their Federal PINs
- If the IRS discovers any errors or you do an amended tax return, contact the Financial Aid Office
- Students and parents who do not need to file IRS tax returns and will not file should submit a FAFSA as soon as they have all 2012 financial documents
- Penn College’s priority FAFSA submission deadline is April 15
- Contact the Financial Aid Office or the government’s ‘FAFSA Help’ with questions
Online tutorials about the FAFSA
- ‘7 Easy Steps to the FAFSA’ provided by the University of California at Santa Barbara
How to Fill Out the FAFSA has been provided on YouTube by the U.S. Department of Education
Federal Verification of the FAFSA
Approximately one out of three FAFSA applicants are chosen for a review process termed ‘Federal Verification.’ As part of Verification, the Financial Aid Office must compare FAFSA data with other information received from students and parents. We send a detailed letter and Verification Form that describes the process to students that must be verified. The Verification process is becoming more ‘customized,’ so not all students and parents will be required to provide the same information.
Any taxpayer (student or parent) who used the IRS Data Retrieval Tool (DRT) and did not change any of the transferred items will, with very few exceptions, not have to provide us with any financial documents for Verification. This is yet another good reason to use the DRT! Taxpayers who chose not to use the DRT or were unable to use it will, in most cases, need to provide us with signed copies of IRS Tax Return Transcripts ordered directly from the IRS. You can request a Tax Return Transcript online, by phone, or by mail.
Wage earners who don’t need to submit tax returns will need to provide us with copies of all of their 2012 W-2 Forms.
The Financial Aid Office will start processing 2013-14 FAFSA information by early March. When processing begins, students can check the following statuses of their FAFSA from the Student Information System (SIS) using the ‘View Financial Aid Information’ section and accessing the 2013-14 Financial Aid Award Summary page:
- ‘Not Received'
- ‘Complete’ or ‘Incomplete’
- ‘Verification Required,’ ‘Verification Received,’ ‘Verification Processing,’ or 'Verification Complete'
From March into the summer, we receive a large number of Verifications and we cannot process them as quickly as we would like to. If your son or daughter's FAFSA is chosen for Verification, we appreciate your patience. Promptly providing us with all of the information we request will allow us to complete the Verification more quickly. Remember if your student has given you Parent/Guest Access on SIS, you too can check on the Verification status using the 'View Financial Aid Information' section.
Pennsylvania Residents and PA State Grant News
During the 2013-14 academic year, thousands of Penn College students who are Pennsylvania residents will be eligible for a Pennsylvania State Grant from the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA). First-time FAFSA applicants must submit PHEAA's State Grant Form (SGF) in order for PHEAA to determine eligibility. Here is how a new student completes the SGF:
- Immediately after the FAFSA is submitted, the following message appears on the FAFSA Confirmation page:
'Optional Feature - Start your state application - Click here if you want to apply for Pennsylvania state-based financial aid.'
- Click on the link to access the SGF
- A number of questions must be answered, and then the SGF is submitted electronically
- The signature page of the SGF must then be printed, signed, and mailed to PHEAA (failure to do this step will result in an incomplete application)
If your first-time student overlooks the first two steps above, don’t panic! S/he will still be able to complete the SGF but will need to wait at least three or four business days after FAFSA completion. At that time, your student will need to create an account on PHEAA’s Account Access to start the process of completing the SGF.
Note that returning students generally are not required to provide PHEAA with additional information at the time of their FAFSA submission.
The primary method that PHEAA ‘communicates’ with students is via e-mail. Sometimes PHEAA will remind students that their SGF must be completed or PHEAA may need additional information from students and parents to determine eligibility. As a result, it is very important to monitor your e-mail messages for possible PHEAA messages after your student’s 2013-14 FAFSA is submitted. Please note the e-mail 'domain' that PHEAA uses is @pheaa.org. You should “whitelist” this domain in your e-mail account and your student’s e-mail account so PHEAA messages will not go to your Spam or Junk folders.
During the month of May, PHEAA begins to inform students and the Financial Aid Office of estimated 2013-14 awards. PHEAA then requires the Financial Aid Office to further determine eligibility based on PHEAA’s policies. If we determine a student does not satisfy all policies, we must inform PHEAA, which will then reduce or remove the award. The most common PHEAA policies are:
- PHEAA Satisfactory Academic Progress (for those that had a previous PHEAA award)
- Gift Aid Policy
- Limits on the number of semesters of PHEAA Grants in a program of study
- Distance Learning Policy – note that the calculation is changing to a semester calculation
- Limits on the number of developmental (remedial) credits
By the way, all students who need a summer PHEAA Grant for summer enrollment and will be enrolled in at least six credits for a total of eight or more weeks submit a separate summer application, which is totally online and will be available in May on PHEAA’s website.
Grants play an important role to help meet many of our students' educational expenses, so be sure not to overlook any requests from PHEAA!