Early FAFSA applications have increased the workload for student financial services.
By Zachary-Taylor Wright
The board of trustees was informed that the five Alamo Colleges will now each submit its own application for financial aid during a financial aid overview presentation at the committee of the whole meeting Aug. 8 at Killen Center.
Dr. Harold Whitis, district director of student financial services, said the financial aid funding mechanism is “up in the air,” and financial services is working with the U.S. Department of Education to establish a system of distributing financial aid.
Whitis said district financial service decided to have each college submit an individual Fiscal Operations Report and Application to Participate (FISAP), which is how colleges receive federal financial aid funds, to accommodate the recommendations made by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Whitis said, under the current model, the district submits one FISAP for the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant and work-study funding through San Antonio College and allocates the aid to the Alamo Colleges based on the percentage of Pell Grant students at each college.
Whitis said this procedural change will begin in the 2018-19 school year.
District 2 trustee Denver McClendon addressed the board, saying the current procedure was one of the concerns they had during the SACSCOC site visits to this college, Northwest Vista College and St. Philip’s College in September 2016.
McClendon reminded the board that they obtained a letter from the Department of Education approving the current procedure and thought the letter said “they were very happy with the way we were doing it.”
Whitis clarified the letter to McClendon.
“Well, we got a letter from them saying the way we were doing it is appropriate,” Whitis said. “They didn’t say they were happy with it. The way we do it is unique to a lot of institutions in the country.”
Dr. Diane Snyder, vice chancellor for finance and administration, said the Department of Education acknowledged that the current procedure is acceptable, but she said this new procedure is a better idea.
McClendon asked if implementing the new procedure would cost the district or colleges any money.
Whitis said the new procedure would require a lot more work and anticipates asking the board for more information technology support next year, meaning there will be a long-term cost impact.
Whitis said district financial services already has begun processing early Free Application for Federal Student Aid, explaining that students applying for financial aid for the 2016-17 school year were able to submit their applications in October 2015.
Whitis said the same students would have submitted FAFSA applications in January 2016 prior to the implementation of early applications.
Whitis explained the impact early applications had on financial services.
“So, when you think about in the office processing schedule, hours got moved back four months,” Whitis said, “which meant we were just barely finished with summer, getting the fall kicked off and dispersing funds to students, and we started working on students for the next year.”
Whitis said the “withdrawal workflow” is in production but won’t be used until after the census date, reminding the board how long the development process has been. The Census date is the 12th class day for each semester.
“I’ve come to you a number of years and talked to you about this withdrawal workflow we were working on,” Whitis said. “I kept pushing back, ‘Well it’s going to be hopefully this semester, this semester.’”
Whitis said the “withdrawal workflow” was developed because of a compliance issue, saying financial services must submit a return of Title IV calculation when a student completely withdraws.
Whitis said the Department of Education expects financial services and all appropriate administrators to be aware of student withdrawals, and Whitis said his department was not always receiving that information.
“The Department of Ed says, ‘If anyone in your school knows it, you have to know it,’” Whitis said. “With the diverse student body that we have and the distributed nature of our colleges, we weren’t always getting that information.”
Whitis said this “withdrawal workflow” will ensure that financial services is informed when a student using financial aid withdraws.
Whitis said Pell Grants are now year-round, meaning students can apply for Pell funding starting in the summer if they use all of their funds in the fall and spring semesters.
Whitis warned that some federally funded programs are in jeopardy of being cut, including public service loan forgiveness.
Public service loan forgiveness allows public servants to have the remaining balance of their student loans forgiven after making 120 monthly payments, according to the federal student aid office website.
Bustamante asked if this applied to all public-school teachers or just at the college level.
Whitis said it applied to all public servants.
Financial aid database reports will now need to be submitted three times a year, Whitis said.
According to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s fiscal year 2016 financial aid database report manual, the report is a “comprehensive file that collects a set of data elements for each aid applicant attending” an institution; the reports are used by the Coordinating Board to report to the Legislative Budget Board.
The data in the reports are intended to measure “the funding resources available to Texas students, conduct compliance checks to ensure the programs are being administered accurately and confirm adherence to program statute and rules.”
“They’re hoping that, by doing it three times a year, it’ll be correct quicker by the end,” Whitis said. “So, they’re punishing us for that.