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PROFESSIONAL JUDGMENT: WHY ME????????. Introduction: How to hang or, better yet, not hang oneself?. 1. When? Higher Education Act of 1965-Financial aid administrators can exercise discretion in certain financial aid areas.

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1. When?
  • Higher Education Act of 1965-Financial aid administrators can exercise discretion in certain financial aid areas.
  • B. This PROFESSIONAL JUDGMENT (PJ) allows for individual treatment of a student with special circumstances not adequately addressed by the standardized federal student aid regulations.
  • 2. What are “special circumstances?”
  • A. These are conditions that differentiate a particular student from a class of students.
  • B. Must be adequately documented.
  • C. Must be administered on a case-by-case basis.
  • D. An institution may establish policies and procedures which identify circumstances that trigger a review, but never ones that automatically make PJ for everyone.
3. Under the 2003 HEROES Act, exceptions to case-by-case basis for PJ:

1.Serving on active duty.

2. Performing qualifying National Guard duty.

3. Reside or work in a declared disaster area.

4. Suffer direct economic hardship as a direct result of war or military operation as determined by USDE.

4. How to flex your financial aid muscles:

1. You have the authority to request and use any supplemental information.

2. There is a big difference between cynical and skeptical.

3. Must be thorough and professional.

5. Prove it! The burden of proof is always with the applicant.

6. Documents speak louder than words, even written words. Remember: If you do not document it, it did not happen.

7. Your decision is “final” and cannot be appealed to the USDE!

8. What about “repeat customers?”


5. General guidelines in your PJ decision-making process:

1. Are these unique circumstances that are not dealt with in the need analysis formula or other Title IV regulations?

2. Is the special circumstance justified in that it affects the student’s ability to pay or complete their program of study?

3. What should your special treatment be?

4. What documentation do I need to support this decision?

5. Will this decision be justifiable in an audit or program review?

6. Areas where PJ is NOT allowed:

1. Changing a student from independent to dependent.

2. Adding a new area of costs in the COA.

3. Adjust the “bottom line” EFC directly.

4. Change FM formula or the values in the EFC tables.

5. Waive general student eligibility requirements.

6. Circumvent FSEOG selection criteria.

7. Where is Professional Judgment allowed?

Dependency status.

2. Need analysis: a. Calculation of COA

b. Calculation of EFC

3. Denial or reduction of Direct Loan or PLUS Loan eligibility.

4. Awarding unsubsidized Direct Loan without parental FAFSA data.

5. Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP)

6. Including expenses for post-enrollment activities to a student’s COA.

8. Dependency Status

1. Changing from independent to dependent.

2. Change in marital status.

3. Parents refusal to contribute to a child’s educational expenses.

4. Parents unwilling to provide information on the FAFSA or a financial aid form.

5. Parents not claiming a student as a dependent for federal income tax purposes.

6. The student’s ability to demonstrate total financial self sufficiency.

7. The past versus the present. Remember that parents are primarily responsible.

9. How to justify a dependency override?

1. Dependency Override Application.

2. Letter from student.

3. Letters from knowledgeable, non-vested third parties (e.g., counselors, teachers, clergy, relatives, social workers, etc.).

4. Copy of student’s federal tax return.

5. Copy of parent’s tax return.

6. Copy of lease, rent receipts, utility bills, health insurance, etc…

7. Court documents.

How to justify a dependency override:

10. Dependency override considerations

Nature of student’s estrangement from the parents?

Is the student estranged from both parents?

Third party relationship to student.

Is the third party unbiased?

Does the student’s income and other resources justify financial self-dependence?

11. Need Analysis/EFC Calculations

Tuition expenses at elementary or secondary schools.

Medical or dental expenses not covered by insurance.

3. High child care or dependent care costs.

4. Unemployment or reduction in income.

5. Parents enrolled at least half-time matriculating towards a recognized degree or certificate.

6. A change in family’s income or assets.

12. Need analysis/EFC-how to justify

1. Copy of federal tax returns

2. Receipts

3. Cancelled checks

4. Billing statements

5. Signed, itemized statement of expenses.

6. Proof of loss of job or reduction in income.

7. Signed statement for estimated or projected income.

8. Documentation of unemployment payments.

13. Need analysis/EFC considerations

1. Why does the child attend a private school?

2. Did the expenses really affect the family’s ability to meet the EFC?

3. Will the PJ result in any additional aid eligibility?

4. Proof of the parent’s enrollment status..

5. What circumstances created the expense or the debt?

6. Was loss of income or job your decision?

Other need analysis/EFC considerations

EFC calculation and Income Protection Allowance (IPA) include:


Housing – 22%

C. Transportation-9%

D. Clothing and personal care- 16%

Medical care- 11%

Other family consumption-12%

Education Savings and Asset Protection Allowance (30 = $13,800, 40= $41,500, 50= $52,900, 60=$69,200)

14. Need analysis/COA calculations
  • Average cost for tuition and fees cost.
  • Cost for materials and equipment required from all students in that same course of studies.

3. Allowance for room and board for resident students as determined by the institution.

4. Reasonable room and board allowance for commuter students or off-campus students.

15. Need analysis/COA- how to justify

1. Receipts from Business Office or copy of billing statement

2. Rent receipts, cancelled checks, utility bills or landlord statement.

3.Grocery receipts

4. Bookstore receipts

5. Computer receipts

6. Statement from student documenting additional mileage or costs.

7. Day care billing statements, copy of receipts, cancelled checks, etc…

16. Denial or reduction of DL or PLUS loan

1. Must be a reasonable action, case-by-case basis, non-discriminatory, and must provide written notification to the student as to why?

2. Possible reasons why? Borrower indicated unwillingness to repay loans, student high debt burden, student’s earning potential, student defaulted on previous loans, etc…

17. Unsub DL without parental FAFSA data

  • Why? Because FA administrator verifies that the parent has ended financial support for the dependent student and refuses to complete the form.
  • Possible solutions: Signed statements from the parents verifying no support. verifying no support. Third party statements verifying student and parent’s relationship.
18. Satisfactory Academic Progress (SAP)

1. Qualitative and quantitative standards

2. Considerations: Have these circumstances created an undue hardship that caused the student’s inability to meet SAP? Have these barriers to academic success been removed for future academic progress?

3. Solutions: Copy of death certificate, signed statement from doctor, third party or adult family member, legal documents, etc…

pj case studies
PJ Case Studies
  • Dependency Status Examples
  • Example 1: Alexander Aaronson is a 17-year-old high school student who will be a freshman during the 2010–11 school year. When he was eight, he went to live with his grandfather and grandmother because his parents divorced and were unable to care for him. His grandparents did not legally adopt Alex, he was never declared a ward of the court, and he never had a legal guardian appointed for him. Alex’s parents both live in other states and he communicates with them only sporadically. Although they do occasionally send him gifts and money, they do not contribute regularly to his support. His mother is single and has a low-paying job. She also has a daughter who lives with her. Although she would be willing to complete and sign Alex’s FAFSA, she cannot afford to support him financially. Alex’s father is remarried and has a job that pays well. However, he has three other children living with him, and he claims he cannot help Alex. In fact, he has not provided any support since the divorce. He refuses to fill out any forms or sign any papers
Example 2: Bianca Beltz will be a junior in 2010–11. She is 21 years old, and for the 2008–09 and 2009–10 award years she was independent because she was married. In October 2009, Bianca and her husband divorced and Bianca moved back home with her parents. She and her husband filed a joint federal tax return for 2009. They had a combined income of $25,000 in 2009, $2,500 of which was her income from a Federal Work-Study job. She expects to earn about the same in 2010. Bianca’s parents are providing a place for her to live, but they claim they cannot contribute toward her educational costs since they are also supporting Bianca’s younger sisters who are both in high school. Bianca’s parents earned $40,000 in 2009.
Projected-Year Income Examples

Example 1: James Jones plans to return to college during the 2010–11 award year after taking some time off. In 2009 (the base year), he worked full time and earned $25,000. He intends to quit his job in August 2010, and attend school full time. James’ 2010 projected-year income will be significantly less than his 2009 base-year income.

In this case, it may not be reasonable to use an EFC based on James’ base-year income to determine his eligibility for financial aid. Therefore, you may decide to adjust the income data using his projected-year income to reflect the income reduction and to recalculate the EFC.

Example 2: Sara Smith is a freshman during the 2010–11 school year. Sara’s mother, Jane, is a single parent. Jane was laid off from her job in December 2009. Her adjusted gross income on her 2009 tax return is $56,300. She is currently looking for another job, but without success so far. She has been collecting $2,500 per month in unemployment benefits since January 2010.

Need Analysis Examples

Example 1: Amy Arndt is 18 years old and will be a freshman in college in 2010–11. In 2009, her father received a $10,000 bonus for being his company’s top salesperson. In addition, Amy’s mother appeared as a contestant on a TV quiz show and won $5,000, which the family reported on their 2009 tax return. Amy’s father does not expect to receive a bonus in 2010. In fact, his company is downsizing and he could be laid off. Also, the family used Amy’s mother’s winnings to pay off a car loan. Her parents’ income in 2009 was $60,000. They estimate that their 2010 income will be around $48,000.

Example 2: In 2010–11, Barry Ballard will be a first-year law student at The Earl Warren Law School in Los Angeles. Barry lived in New York City and claims to have incurred considerable expenses associated with moving from New York City to Los Angeles. These expenses include $4,000 for the moving company, $300 for hotel, meals, etc., on his way to Los Angeles, and $2,700 for new furniture for his new apartment.

He put all of these expenses, totaling $7,000, on his credit card and would like you to adjust his cost of attendance in order to be reimbursed. In addition, Barry quit his job as a paralegal with a New York City law firm when making the move. His 2009 income was $33,000. He expects to live off of his savings and student loans while in law school.

Denial or Reduction of Direct Stafford or PLUS Loan Eligibility Examples

Example 1: Art Atkins is 18 years old and will be a freshman at McKinley College in the fall. His parents do not support his plans to go away to college, preferring instead that he stay at home to work in the family business. His parents reluctantly completed the FAFSA and told Art that financing his education would be entirely his responsibility.

Art’s financial aid package includes a parent PLUS, which he will need to help cover his COA at McKinley College. After much cajoling, Art convinced his parents to complete the PLUS Master Promissory Note, or MPN. However, they have informed him that he will be responsible for making the payments on the PLUS, and that they will not be responsible for any missed payments. His parents have also sent a letter containing this statement along with the PLUS MPN to the financial aid office.

Example 2: Barbara Buxton will be a graduate student at Crenshaw University in 2010–11. After receiving her baccalaureate degree in English from Shelby College in 2006, she had a difficult time making her Stafford Loan payments. During much of 2007 and 2008, Barbara was employed intermittently and fell further behind on her loan payments. In 2008, Barbara was laid off from her teaching job and she stopped making her loan payments altogether. Consequently, she went into default on her Stafford Loan.

In 2009, Barbara found full-time employment at a local community college and has decided to attend Crenshaw University to pursue her master’s degree. She has fully repaid her previously defaulted Stafford Loan and now wants to borrow again for her graduate program.

Unsubsidized Direct Loan Eligibility for a Dependent Student Without Parental FAFSA Data Examples

Example 1: Jojo Josephson will be a junior at Blue Ridge Mountain College for the 2010–11 year. During the 2008–09 and 2009–10 years, she received Title IV aid as a dependent student. For the 2010–11 year, she is still a dependent student. However, she and her parents had an argument and they have refused to provide their information for Jojo’s 2010–11 FAFSA. She has moved in with a relative and her parents do not provide any of her financial support.

Example 2: Tom Lee will be a freshman at Red River Community College for the 2010–11 year. He is a dependent student. His parents believe he should be responsible for his college expenses and therefore, will not provide their information for Tom’s 2010–11 FAFSA. Tom and his parents maintain a good relationship and he continues to live in their home and receive other financial support from them.

Satisfactory Academic Progress Examples

Example 1: Anthony Armstrong is a full-time student at the Washington Auto Technical School. He is enrolled in a 30-week, 900-clock-hour program. The school’s satisfactory academic progress policy requires students to successfully complete at least 80% of the clock hours for which they have contracted. The school reviews progress for these students at the 15-week point of the program, at which time all full-time students must have completed 360 clock hours (80% of 450 clock hours).

At the end of the 15-week period, Anthony has completed only 270 clock hours. The school notifies him that he is deficient by 90 clock hours and is not meeting the satisfactory academic progress requirements. As a result, Anthony has written a letter explaining his situation.

During the fall term, he was involved in an automobile accident which required two weeks of hospitalization. After being released from the hospital, he experienced severe neck pain and headaches which caused him to miss another week of school. While his instructors were aware of the automobile accident, Anthony did not inform them of the physical problems he was experiencing.

Example 2: Belinda Biedler has completed her junior year at Crestview College, which was a disaster academically. Never really a strong student, she failed four of her courses, took an incomplete in two, and earned ―D‖ grades in the others. At the end of her freshman year she had a cumulative 1.9 grade point average (GPA). At the end of her sophomore year, her GPA was just over a 2.0. Her current GPA no longer meets Crestview’s satisfactory academic progress requirements, and she is also deficient by seven credit hours. Early in the school year Belinda became pregnant and encountered physical complications which resulted in her missing quite a bit of school. She has filed an appeal of her SAP determination.




My contact information:

Matthew C. Stokan

Director of Financial Aid

Waynesburg University

51 W. College Street

Waynesburg, PA 15370


[email protected]