Mapping Your Future: Financial aid professionals receive professional judgment reminder

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Financial aid professionals receive professional judgment reminder

By Catherine Mueller

February 04, 2021

Although financial aid professionals may not have needed the reminder, it's still good to see it again in writing that the Department of Education recognizes the increased need for professional judgment in determining financial aid for students.

In a January 29 Dear Colleague Letter, the Department reminded financial aid professionals that they have authority under the Higher Education Act to use professional judgment to address special circumstances – some of which have been brought on by the pandemic.

In DCL GEN-21-02, the Department said it “will continue to monitor and enforce requirements for appropriate use of professional judgment but recognize that appropriate use of professional judgment by a school is likely to increase in the current economic environment.”

In addition, the Department extended the guidance issued in a July 9, 2020 Electronic Announcement and said that in consideration of the continued economic hardship resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic affecting students and their families, the Department “will not negatively view increased use of professional judgment or use it as a selection criterion for a program compliance review for the 2021-22 award year.”

The letter informs financial aid administrators that at all times — but especially during the national pandemic — they may set income from work to zero for a student or parent who received unemployment benefits. This, in turn, may make applicants eligible for a Pell Grant or possibly a larger loan award.