Category Archives: Post-Secondary Education

Selecting a Housing Plan on FAFSA

Q: I am completing the FAFSA and on the page where I indicate which schools I want my information sent to, it asks me to indicate if I will be living on-campus, off-campus or with parents. I am currently in foster care and have lived with my aunt since I entered the system, and I plan to continue living with her while I go to community college. Which option do I select?

A: You would select “off-campus.” Students should not select “With Parent” as their housing plan if they plan to live with a foster parent, relative caregiver, or legal guardian. Instead, select “Off-Campus.” This is crucial for getting all the money that is available to you to pay for your living expenses. The option you select has an impact on how much money you receive as the “cost of attendance” is considered more when living off-campus than when living with a parent. For more tips on how to complete the FAFSA, check out the Financial Aid Guide for California Foster Youth.

Reporting Household Size on the FAFSA

Q: I am working with a high school senior to complete the FAFSA and I’m not sure what number she should to answer the question “Your number of family members in 2018-2019 (household size).” Does she include her foster parents? Her siblings? Her biological parents?

A: If she was in foster care at any point after the age of 13, is currently in legal guardianship, or was in guardianship upon turning 18, she qualifies as an “independent student,” which means she does not have to report her parental income. This also means that her household size would include only her, and if applicable, a spouse and any children that she supports. For a single student with no children, the household size reported would be “1.” It does NOT include birth parents, foster parents, siblings, other relatives or others who she lives with.

Re-enrolling in college after accruing student debt

Q: We are working with a youth who would like to reenroll in community college, but has incurred student debt from when he enrolled and received the Pell Grant, and then dropped out and did not pay the financial aid back. He reports that the debt has gone into collections. Will he be able to reapply for financial aid? Any advice on how to deal with the debt so he can reenroll in school?

A: If the debt he incurred was from federal financial aid such as the Pell Grant and it has gone to collections, then he will have to at least begin to make payments before being able to apply for any other federal financial aid (regardless of the school he enrolls in).

The student should call the phone number on his Student Aid Report and ask how many payments he must make before the hold can be lifted. The collections office his debt has been referred to will inform the Department of Education (DOE) if the student is making payments. The DOE can issue a letter to the student or school, and at that point the school can override the hold for the student to receive the Pell Grant again.

It is also good to know that if the student calls the collections office and indicates he would like to pay his debt in full, they will usually discount the payment amount for the student if the student asks.

For future reference, if the student was able to catch address the debt before it went to collections, he may have been able to make “satisfactory arrangements” with the school, where the school repays the debt and makes arrangements with the student for repayment. Many schools are willing to use future aid to pay off debt.

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Homeless Students Claimed on Parent’s Tax Return

Q: I’m helping an unaccompanied homeless youth with the FAFSA. I’m wondering how to advise him if someone is still claiming him as a dependent on their taxes, even though they are not supporting him.

A: The issue of tax claims is completely separate from the FAFSA independent student status. The FAFSA status is based on the student’s living situation. As long as the student is determined to be unaccompanied and homeless in the year in which he is submitting the application, he is considered an independent student for the FAFSA, regardless of whether someone else is fraudulently claiming him as a dependent on their taxes.

Completing the FAFSA – independent non-minor students who didn’t file taxes

Q: I’m going to be helping a 19-year-old young woman participating in extended foster care complete the FAFSA when it becomes available in October. I understand that foster youth are independent and so they do not provide any parent or guardian tax information, however are they required to provide their own tax information? What if they didn’t file taxes?

You are correct. If she was in foster care at least one day after age 13, she is considered independent on the FAFSA, and does not provide any information about parents, guardians or caregivers.

In some cases, non-minor dependents file taxes, however in many cases they do not file taxes because they have earned less than the standard deduction. The FAFSA now uses “prior-prior-year” data, so for the 2018-19 school year, 2016 taxes would be used.

  • If the youth was a non-minor in 2016 and did file taxes, he/she should submit tax transcripts using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool.
  • If the youth was a non-minor in 2016 and did not file taxes because he/she earned less than the standard deduction ($10,350 for a single taxpayer in 2016), then he/she would not be required to provide tax transcripts when applying for financial aid.

Students not required to file taxes will need to provide Verification of Nonfiling. This could be a signed statement by the student certifying that he/she has not filed and is not required to file a 2016 income tax return. Because the statement is very specific, most schools have created a document for students to complete and sign. If your school does not provide this, make sure that your certifying letter includes a listing of any 2016 earned income and a copy of any IRS Form W-2 for any income earned that year.

Citation:

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Satisfactory Academic Progress

Q: I have heard that in order to maintain certain forms of financial aid, a student has to maintain “Satisfactory Academic Progress.” What does this mean exactly?

A: Each school has a satisfactory academic progress policy for financial aid purposes and there can be variation across institutions. Typically, there are three components: minimum GPA, the percentage of cumulative units attempted that must be successfully completed, and the requirement that students complete their educational program within a maximum time frame of 150% of the published program’s requirements.

GPA requirements are often set at a minimum of 2.0 but you should check your school’s policy to confirm. The percentage of units that must be successfully completed also varies and generally ranges between 65-80%. Each institution’s policy can typically be found on their website.

The final requirement depends on the type of program a student is enrolled in. For example, if the student is in an Associate Degree program that requires 60 units, the maximum number of units that could be taken before losing financial aid eligibility would be 150% of that or 90 units.

In some cases, a student may be able to appeal for a temporary waiver of the satisfactory academic progress rules. These circumstances include when the failure to make satisfactory academic progress was due to injury or illness of the student, death of a relative of the student or other special circumstances. Students in this circumstance should consult with the financial aid office or foster youth program.

Career and Technical Education (CTE) Resources

Q: Is there any way to easily learn more about Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs at the community colleges and find out what types of credentials are available at my local colleges?

 

A: There are a number of new online tools now available to help students research and understand CTE options at the community colleges. My Path walks users through the steps involved with community college matriculation and includes information on career options, choosing a college, applying for college and financial aid. The Career Coach offers links to career assessment tests, data on wages, employment and training for jobs in a range of sectors, and a searchable database of programs in different fields. The Salary Surfer uses the aggregated earnings of graduates from a five-year period to provide an estimate on the potential wages to be earned two years and five years after receiving a certificate or degree in certain disciplines. This tool also provides information on which colleges offer programs in each specific discipline.

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BOG Fee Waiver Disqualification from failure to maintain SAP

Q: I’m working with a foster youth in community college who is receiving the Board of Governors (BOG) Fee Waiver. His Grade Point Average has been below a 2.0 for two consecutive semesters now. I understand that the BOG Fee Waiver now has Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP) requirements. Will this youth lose his fee waiver?

A: No, if he is a foster youth, he will not lose his BOG Fee Waiver for failure to maintain Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP). While there is a requirement that BOG Fee Waiver recipients must maintain at least a 2.0 GPA and greater than a 50% Completion Rate, current and former foster youth under age 25 are exempt from BOG Fee Waiver Disqualification.

Citation: Senate Bill 1456 (2012); Board of Governors Fee Waiver Program and Special Programs Manual (2015)

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Pell Grant time limits

Q: I’ve been receiving the Pell Grant for six years – I spent several years attending community college part-time, then transferred to a 4-year where I have one year left before getting my degree.
 
I was told that a student can only receive the Pell Grant for 6 years / 12 semesters. Does this mean I cannot receive the Pell for my 7th year in college?

A: No, this does not mean you will lose your Pell Grant in your 7th year. A student can receive the Pell Grant for 6 full-time-equivalent years (12 full-time-equivalent semesters) as an undergraduate. Since you were not attending college full-time for each of your 6 years, you should still be eligible for some Pell in your 7th year.

For example, if you attended half-time (6 units each semester) for your first 2 years of college, you would have used only 1 full-time-equivalent year of Pell during those 2 years. That would leave you with 1 more full-time-equivalent year of eligibility—enough for your final 7th year.

How can you know for sure how much Pell eligibility you have left?

  • When you file a FAFSA, you receive a Student Aid Report that will give you a general idea of how many of your 6 full-time-equivalent years of eligibility you have already used.
  • For more specific information, you can log in to the National Student Loan Data System (NSLDS) at https://www.nslds.ed.gov/nslds/nslds_SA/ (click on “Financial Aid Review” and set up an account, if you haven’t already). It will show you the percentage of Pell eligibility that you have already used. The cut-off point is 600% (that is equivalent to 6 full-time-equivalent years). Example:  If it shows you have used 400% of your Pell eligibility, you would have 200% (or 2 full-time equivalent years) left.

For the most up-to-date information, you can contact your college’s financial aid office.

Citation: Federal Student Aid Handbook (2016-2017)

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Community colleges offering housing

Q: Which community colleges offer housing? I work with transition-aged foster youth who are often interested in attending community college, but struggle to identify housing nearby. Is there a statewide list of community colleges that offer housing?

A: Yes. Eleven of the 113 community colleges provide dorms or other housing assistance. The California Community College Chancellor’s Office maintains a list of community colleges that provide dorms or other housing assistance here: http://www.cccco.edu/CommunityColleges/CollegeHousing.aspx

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