Fewer college students from low-income households will be asked this year to provide further proof that the information on their financial aid application is accurate, the Education Department said Tuesday. With the financial impact of the pandemic still rippling through communities, the agency is temporarily relaxing its audit of students who rely on federal grants and loans to pay for school. The department will focus the audit, known as verification, on ferreting out identity theft and fraud for the - Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, cycle. The decision will help the millions of students whose FAFSA applications are being processed for the upcoming school year as well as those who had been selected for verification but have not yet completed the audit, according to the department. Verification is intended to maintain the integrity of the $ billion federal financial aid system, especially the billions of dollars in Pell grants provided to students with limited means. But the process is widely criticized as being an invasive, time-consuming and unnecessary hurdle for some of higher education’s most vulnerable populations. To protect taxpayer dollars, the Education Dept. is disproportionately auditing Black and Latino college students A Washington Post analysis of federal data this year found that the Education Department has disproportionately audited students from majority Black and Latino neighborhoods for at least the past decade. Those same populations are at the center of the steep declines in college enrollment since the pandemic, particularly at community colleges. After a spring semester in which the National Student Clearinghouse tracked an enrollment decline of , students, or . percent, the Education Department says it is trying to stem the tide. The department estimates that narrowing the parameters for verification can help about , more students from low-income households and students of color. “This has been an exceptionally tough year,” Richard Cordray, head of the Education Department’s Federal Student Aid office, said Tuesday. “We need to ensure students have the most straightforward path to acquiring the financial aid they need to enroll in college and continue their path to a degree. Nearly a quarter of the roughly million students who filed the FAFSA were selected for verification in the - cycle. Comparatively, less than half a percent of all returns last year were subject to an audit by the Internal Revenue Service. A National College Attainment Network analysis of federal data found that when the Education Department selected fewer students in the - FAFSA cycle, it actually prevented more improper payments than the prior cycle. This suggests high audit rates were inefficient. The Education Department routinely reconfigures the verification model to reduce risks to taxpayers and students, lowering the percentage of people flagged from a high of percent in the - FAFSA cycle to percent in the last two rounds. In December, the agency said it would audit no more than percent of FAFSA filers because the costs exceed the benefits when more people are selected. Financial aid officials and student advocates have pressed for even lower targets. While the latest verification changes are temporary, advocates say it is a step in the right direction. “This cycle’s changes are more important than ever in these times of exacerbated inequities from the pandemic,” said Kim Cook, executive director of the nonprofit National College Attainment Network. “This relief also helps our advisers and school counselors to better focus their time on outreach and support to students to stay on track for their postsecondary goals.” Students must comply with a verification request or lose access to grants, scholarships and loans. The more complex their financial situation, the more documents they must submit and the longer the verification may take. Financial aid applicants with the lowest incomes tend to face the highest hurdles. At least percent of Pell-eligible applicants are exempt from filing taxes because of their low-income levels, according to the Education Department. That prevents them from easily importing verified income data from the Internal Revenue Service onto their FAFSA form and requires more legwork to complete the audit. Because of the challenges some students face acquiring required documents, some never complete verification and fail to receive the money needed for school, according to the Education Department. Cordray said the department will continue to evaluate longer-term improvements to the verification process to make the audit more equitable while still preventing fraud.
Spring semester East Central College students received a total of $, in emergency federal financial aid funds to ease the impact COVID- had on them. There were students who each received between $ to $, depending on their financial aid status., through the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations CRRSA Act. The CRRSA Act provided the funding for students to help ease any financial burden because of the COVID- pandemic. Students can use the funding for many reasons, including emergency costs that arise due to the coronavirus, as well as food, housing, health care including mental health care or childcare. “It’s important for us to distribute this money to our students, while many of them are taking classes, they are also working part-time or full-time,” said Dr. Jon Bauer, ECC president. “COVID- has affected each of them in different ways, and the funding will help alleviate some financial stress.” The college also has $,, in emergency student financial aid funding provided through the federal American Rescue Plan ARP. The ARP funding will be distributed to students during the upcoming academic year. “We are waiting for some guidance to determine what time during the upcoming year that students would be eligible to receive the financial aid funds,” says Dr. Bauer. Last October $, in Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security CARES Act dollars were disbursed to a group of eligible fall semester students. Overall, East Central College received a total of $,, in emergency student financial aid awards.
Australian government officials have announced added financial support for businesses and households as Sydney appears increasingly likely to enter a fourth week of lockdown due to coronavirus clusters CANBERRA, Australia -- Australian government officials on Tuesday announced added financial support for businesses and households as Sydney appeared increasingly likely to enter a fourth week of lockdown due to coronavirus clusters. New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she would announce on Wednesday whether Sydney’s million residents would remain locked down beyond the three-week mark on Friday. She had said the -hour record of new cases recorded on Sunday made lifting the lockdown on Friday “almost impossible.” “What we do know is that we have the financial support there so that individuals and families and businesses don’t have to stress and they know that for the duration of the lockdown, the support will be there,” she told reporters. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the presence in Sydney of the delta variant, which is thought to be more contagious, had escalated the pandemic danger. “The New South Wales outbreak has proved to be more severe, more dangerous, and it’s in the national interest that we now put in place an upgraded set of arrangements for cooperation with the states and territories,” Morrison said of the disaster funding deal. The daily infection tally in New South Wales dropped to on Tuesday, but authorities remain concerned that of those infected with the delta variant had been in the community while contagious. Australia has recorded three COVID- deaths this year. A man, aged in his s, died on Monday in Sydney’s eastern suburbs where the current cluster began last month, officials said. A woman in her s from southwest Sydney died in a Sydney hospital on Saturday, a day after testing positive for COVID-. Before her, Australia last reported a COVID- death on April . An -year-old old man who had become infected in the Philippines and was diagnosed while in hotel quarantine. Australia has been relatively successful in containing COVD- clusters and there have only been deaths since the pandemic began. But the country s vaccine rollout has been slow, which experts say has left the population particularly vulnerable to the delta variant. Fewer than % of the population older than had been fully vaccinated by Tuesday. Australian-manufactured AstraZeneca had been recommended for all adults in Australia until a -year-old died of rare blood clots blamed on the vaccine in April. The clots are more common in younger people. AstraZeneca was then recommended for adults over years until a -year-old died of blood clots blamed on the vaccine in May. The vaccine is now recommended for adults over . The only alternative registered in Australia is imported Pfizer which is in short supply. Most Australians under -years-old can’t get Pfizer.
Michael C. Weimar, The Gainesville Sun The local Cash for College campaign consists of six sessions that provide students, parents and legal guardians with guided instructions and one-on-one assistance from financial aid professionals. In this file photo, Mike Powell, right, speaks to prospective students and their parents during a financial aid and scholarship workshop. File Photo by Michael C. WeimarSpecial to The Guardian You can get financial aid to further your education — whether you choose to attend college or trade school by taking advantage of opportunities available through Cash for College, a collaborative campaign to ensure every Floridian achieves an education beyond high school and completes the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA. Launched on July , Cash for College is hosted by the Florida College Access Network FCAN. Cash for College offers resources designed to make FAFSA more accessible and guide students and their families through the necessary steps to complete the process. The local Cash for College campaign consists of six sessions that provide students, parents and legal guardians with guided instructions and one-on-one assistance from financial aid professionals. The next help sessions will be held: To register for one of the help sessions, learn more about the Cash for College campaign, or access free FAFSA resources, visit Regardless of your financial situation, if you have children in college, a graduating high school senior headed to colleg, or you are an adult looking to attend college or a trade school, then completing FAFSA is a must to receive financial assistance. The FAFSA is necessary to receive federal financial aid, including grant money that you don’t have to pay back and loans that you do have to pay back. FAFSA also is used by state colleges and other institutions of higher learning to determine eligibility for their financial aid programs and scholarships. Florida students must also complete a Florida Financial Aid application in order to receive Bright Future Scholarships and other state financial aid. School officials recommend completing the FAFSA right away because some states and schools have limited funds. Officials also say many people think they won’t qualify and miss out on millions of dollars in grant money that go unclaimed each year. Kamia “Mia” Mwango, director of the Office of Financial Aid at Santa Fe College, said It s important to complete the FAFSA as soon as possible in order to get funding for which you re eligible, and, even if students and parents don t think they qualify for need-based financial aid, the FAFSA is also required to qualify for scholarships and loans. “The FAFSA is the starting point to make sure you’re getting as much money as you’re eligible,” said Mwango. “You won’t be in the running if you don’t have a FAFSA in the system.” Mwango said the FAFSA looks two years back, and you must report income for the - school year using your income tax records. The FAFSA is available at .studentaid.gov. • W- forms and other records of money earned in , and untaxed income records such as child support, social security and welfare payments of parents, students, and spouses, if married. • A Florida Prepaid surrender value statement, mortgage information, business and farm records, stocks, bonds, and other investments. “It’s a good idea to complete the FAFSA as soon as possible,” said Mwango, adding Santa Fe College financial aid reps will be on hand to assist students and their parents at financial aid events. Mwango said students under years of age must also include their parent’s financial information in the FAFSA. Students who meet the Special Circumstances criteria may not have to include their parent’s information. Mwango said the FAFSA has cut the red tape on questions deemed confusing or misleading but the questions are still in the form this year including the requirement for selective service registration to receive financial aid, and the question about drug use. The FAFSA mobile app enables parents and students to complete the FAFSA using a smartphone or tablet at their convenience. “The sooner the FAFSA process is completed the sooner you will know you have the money for college and it takes away the anxiety so you can concentrate about the fun things of going to college,” Mwango said. “Santa Fe is here to help you in your journey,’ Mwango continued. “Don’t’ give up on your plans of going to college. We’re here to help you.” If you’re submitting a FAFSA electronically, you will need a Federal Student Aid FSA ID, which requires a username and password. The FSA ID is available on the FSA ID site at
The increased amount of grants and scholarships offered to college-bound students has also led to the proliferation of financial aid scams. The U.S. Better Business Bureau BBB reports the number of consumer complaints regarding loans and grant services has increased by percent in . And even though these scams look benign, such as financial aid seminars held at nice locations, they will bilk parents out of thousands of dollars and possibly rob their kids of an education. If you re looking for a grant or scholarship to offset the cost of today s expensive college tuition, you need to be aware the scam artists game. Here s a look at two of the more prevalent financial aid scams the BBB wants you to look out for: College Grant Scams. Scam artists will send consumers an e-mail or letter that will offer Free Grant Money — they qualify for private or government grant money as financial aid for debt relief or to help pay off college bills. When victims receive the grant money in the form of a check, they are instructed to deposit the money and then wire a designated amount back to the company to cover processing fees. Even though the checks look professional, it will take several weeks for the bank to realize they re fraudulent. So, as a result, the victim has to pay back the bank for depositing the fake check, but they ve also lost the money wired to the scammers. Financial Aid Seminar Scams. Parents from all over the United States have contacted the BBB saying they paid a Utah-based company as much as $, for help finding financial aid and never heard from the company again. Parents report their college-bound child received an e-mail from College Money Matters stating they d been accepted to attend a free financial seminar. The seminar is a sales pitch and, for a fee, the company would submit the student s Free Application for Federal Student Aid FAFSA form and find college scholarships and grants for the student. Victims report they paid $ to $, and never heard from the company again. Not only did the parents not receive the promised help for finding financial aid, they discovered that their child s application was never filed. Now that you know what to look for, here are some additional tips the BBB offers to consumers to keep you from getting snared in a scam artist s trap: If you or your child gets a scholarship-is-guaranteed-or-your-money-back promise, run for the hills. No one can guarantee that they will get you a grant or scholarship. And the refund guarantees that are offered usually have so many strings attached that it s impossible for consumers to get their money back. Any financial aid organization that says you can t get this information any where else is pulling your leg. Scholarship information is widely available in books, from libraries, financial aid offices, or on the Internet. Watch out for companies that promise that they will do all of the research and apply to grants and scholarships for you. Only parents and students can really determine and provide the financial information need to complete the forms. Any company or organization that asks for your credit card or bank account number to reserve a scholarship is scamming you. This is never a requirement for legit scholarship offers. Beware if you re told that the scholarship will cost some money. Legitimate scholarship offers never require any kinds of payment.
Earlier this year, the Restaurant Revitalization Fund was approved to support struggling small businesses. The fund required applications from businesses that were at least % owned by women, veterans or people considered socially or economically disadvantaged be prioritized for the first days. After that, applicants who did not fall under these categories would be considered. However, nearly , restaurant owners who identify as women, veterans, andor as people of color have yet to receive their approved funding from the Small Business Administration SBA. Lawsuits filed by conservative law groups are claiming the prioritization efforts were discriminatory have caused the pause in federal aid. Gregory León is the owner of Amilinda, a Spanish and Portuguese restaurant located in Milwaukee. He is one of the nearly , restaurateurs affected by these lawsuits. This isn’t necessarily a handout. We essentially were getting money that we lost because of the pandemic, León explains. This is money that we certainly would have been having if we had been open and doing a regular dinner service. As the country starts to relax COVID- restrictions, León still cannot afford to open at full capacity. This is money that can bring in more staff. ... This is money that s going to give much deserved raises to the staff we already have, he says. This is money that s going to local growers and producers. ... This is money that we re putting back into our community. One of the many lawsuits was filed by the conservative legal group Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty WILL. The group filed on behalf of Antonio Vitolo, a restaurant owner based in Tennessee. The lawsuit claimed that Vitolo, who is white and male, did not receive a fair chance to receive recovery funds because of his race. Rick Esenberg, the president and general counsel of WILL, says that it was unconstitutional for there to have been a race-based or gender-based preference in the application process. The problem that Antonio had is that he wanted to participate in the program, he would otherwise qualify ... but he was being denied the opportunity based upon his race and gender, he says. Vitolo has received federal aid from the SBA, while restaurant owners like León hasn t received their approved funding from the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. I ve spoken to other restaurants around the country, there s days were we just really feel like nobody cares, León says. Restaurant workers give up a lot of their own lives for other people, ... it feels like nobody cares like restaurants and restaurant workers are expendable. At the time of publication, the SBA was no longer receiving applications for the fund. The SBA also recently announced that they will be closing the Restaurant Revitalization Fund portal on July . Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin has publicly advocated for a bipartisan effort to replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Fund. León says that ordering from and visiting restaurants like Amilinda helps, but he emphasizes that people call their local government representatives. Tell them that you want them to back to replenish the Restaurant Revitalization Fund that is the biggest thing everybody can do right now, he says.
Indiana officials shared good news recently with word the state s college completion rate ticked up in . But Hoosiers have a long way to go. A May report issued by the state s Commission for Higher Education found the number of college-bound seniors at its lowest rate in about a decade. In other words, Indiana is losing ground in producing college graduates. A guest column on Page A shares news of a strategy to reverse that decline. Ivy Tech Community College President Sue Ellspermann and Jerrilee Mosier, chancellor for Ivy Tech s Fort Wayne and Warsaw programs, detail efforts to reduce costs. In addition to freezing tuition, the statewide community college system will cover the cost of course materials and cap tuition at $, per year for as many credit hours as a full-time student would like to take. State budget funds approved by the Indiana General Assembly allow for the tuition freeze. The $ million to underwrite the new Ivy+ program comes from the federal American Rescue Plan Act. Ellspermann and Mosier don t mention that fact in the column, but Ellspermann spoke enthusiastically about it in a June webinar hosted by Education Strategy Group, an educational attainment consulting firm. Three panelists, including the Ivy Tech leader, discussed the nearly $ billion in federal funds going directly to colleges and universities in the latest round of pandemic relief. Indiana s U.S. senators, Todd Young and Mike Braun, did not vote for the latest COVID- relief plan. Neither did rd District Congressman Jim Banks. The American Rescue Plan Act delivers $ billion to Indiana, in addition to the $, stimulus checks most Hoosiers received this year. With its earlier rounds of federal relief funds, Ivy Tech used about $. million to offset state funding cuts made at the onset of the pandemic and $. million to make up for a revenue shortfall from lower enrollment last summer and fall. “We asked if we could use our CARES Act institutional funds, and got the OK to purchase the digital materials for the fall and spring,” Ellspermann said in her webinar comments. “We did a $ million contract with Cengage Unlimited to provide the digital materials for about % of our student body. We saw about a % improvement in our pass rates as a result, meaning students had the materials they needed.” Ivy Tech pointed to that success in asking the U.S. Department of Education to allow it to use American Rescue Plan Act funds for that purpose going forward. “It s been my goal for three years to get to inclusive tuition,” Ellspermann said of including course material costs. “It will be a $ million investment. We re going to use our ARP funds ... as we transition into that inclusive tuition model. It s a wonderful thing. “My belief is that for community college students – all college students, for that matter – it s critical that we take down barriers,” she said. “The No. barrier is course materials. It does no good to have scholarships if you can t afford the course materials, the books to do the work.” Ellspermann said the community college has been “pleased and appreciative” of the support by the federal Department of Education in endorsing its efforts. She said data tools from the state have been invaluable in demonstrating Ivy Tech s progress in recent years, including the fact that the percentage of graduates earning above the state s median wage a year after graduation has increased from % to %. The American Rescue Plan Act funds come with helpful flexibility. In an effort to ensure much of the $ billion reaches students, half of the funds must go to financial aid. Unlike some existing aid programs, adults enrolled in short term, non-degree programs are eligible. The challenge now is to convince Hoosiers to take advantage of the money to earn a degree or certificate. As Ellspermann and Mosier write, it might sound too good to be true. But there s no debt trap here – the federal funds are an opportunity for Indiana to reverse its decline in educational attainment. Ivy Tech officials deserve credit for using the money to benefit the state and its residents.
The pandemic has put a disproportionate financial strain on low-income and first generation medical and law school students. Money has been tight for many of these students and their families over the past year, resulting in some tension around the financial aid policy called “summer contribution.” Consider This cohost Paris Alston speaks with WBUR senior education reporter Carrie Jung.