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Can a meets-full-need college do a FA bait-and switch?

brantlybrantly 3919 replies69 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
We received a very adequate and appropriate FA award this year for freshman DS at a meets-full-need school. I was told, in writing, that if our financial situation remains the same that the award will be the same going forward.

This week two parents of sophomores (different families) on the school's parent Facebook page lamented that the FA office reduced their students' grants by 60% this year. One of them said that the FA office did not even notify them of the FA award until after her child had moved in and started classes—despite their having submitted the paperwork "months ago" and assiduously following up with FA office to ask about the award. Their child is now withdrawing from the school after only a week of classes because of an insufficient FA award.

Of course, I don't know if these families are telling the whole story. But my question is, other than giving their word, what is the obligation of a meets-full-need college to provide, after freshman year, FA that adheres to the same formula used to determine freshman-year aid? Obviously, if a family comes into a large inheritance, or HHI increases significantly, the award will change. But if there are small increases in income (say, 10%) and no bump in assets, can a university use that as an opportunity/excuse to significantly reduce the FA award?

Needless to say, I am concerned about next year.
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Replies to: Can a meets-full-need college do a FA bait-and switch?

  • thumper1thumper1 74205 replies3245 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    I’m going to start by saying...I don’t think you have the whole story. Even for returning students, the financial aid awards is received well before classes started. It’s very possible that the family who got the award after classes started was selected for verification...or something.

    There have been reports her that some schools have been reducing need based aid...and this has happened with other students. I wish I could remember the school. Hoping someone else will recall this.

    Unless you have seen the finances of these families, I would say it’s impossible to know the whole story. Maybe a parent got a big one time bonus. Maybe they received an inheritance that is sitting in their bank account and is now an asset. Maybe last year they had two in college and this year only one is in college.

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  • Groundwork2022Groundwork2022 2080 replies30 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    "Their child is now withdrawing from the school after only a week of classes because of an insufficient FA award."

    That is heartbreaking. I have heard of schools reducing aid after the first year, yes, but I haven't heard of it decreasing by 60%. Yikes!

    I recently read a book with case studies about students dropping with lesser FA cuts than that. They were low SES to start, most were already borrowing the maximum they could and were working (more hours than they their course load could usually bear) to help support their families on top of it, so every penny of aid mattered.
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  • brantlybrantly 3919 replies69 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    thumper1 wrote: »
    I’m going to start by saying...I don’t think you have the whole story.

    This is what I am hoping. But I found it odd that two different families said their aid was reduced by 60%. That exact number.
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  • mom2collegekidsmom2collegekids 84004 replies1012 threadsForum Champion Financial Aid, Forum Champion Alabama Forum Champion
    This week two parents of sophomores (different families) on the school's parent Facebook page lamented that the FA office reduced their students' grants by 60% this year. One of them said that the FA office did not even notify them of the FA award until after her child had moved in and started classes—despite their having submitted the paperwork "months ago" and assiduously following up with FA office to ask about the award. Their child is now withdrawing from the school after only a week of classes because of an insufficient FA award.


    Can you reach out to them by private message to find out more details. They probably aren’t posting the whole story.

    With such drastic and last minute reductions in aid, I would guess that either the school realized that they were given too much aid last year (perhaps properties they owned were given too low of a value), they have stocks that are worth more now, or they own a business and it’s worth more now. Does either family have a noncustodial parent?


    And it’s strange that two separate families BOTH got the same last minute 60% reductions. That also is suspicious.
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  • brantlybrantly 3919 replies69 threadsRegistered User Senior Member

    Can you reach out to them by private message to find out more details. They probably aren’t posting the whole story.

    I did. Yesterday. Have not gotten replies yet. One of them was very nonchalant about it on the FB page. She just said something to the effect of, oh well, on to the next adventure.

    One would think that colleges -- especially one that meets full need -- would do everything they could to KEEP students in college.
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  • taverngirltaverngirl 885 replies20 threadsRegistered User Member
    Yes! It happened to us/my daughter, and at least three other students she knows at URochester. They all transferred out. She had many other friends who were also affected but ended up staying. True, you may not know the entire story, but where there's smoke, there's fire. Here are a couple of articles we came across (after the fact, unfortunately) that show it appears to be an issue, at least at University of Rochester:

    https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/paying-for-college/articles/2015/06/16/10-colleges-where-upperclassmen-get-less-financial-help

    http://www.campustimes.org/2016/09/11/students-urs-financial-aid-theories-dont-always-match-reality/

    In addition, many folks I've spoken to IRL and on CC have mentioned that what Roch considers your need to be is an unrealistic number. Their net cost was about $15k higher than every other school where my d was accepted (we thought the value was worth it). Interestingly, when she applied as a transfer this summer, she even received FA at several much-lower-priced state universities. Curious as to how we can have need according to those schools but not Roch.

    I'm not sure what to say about the extremely late FA notice from your parent FB page, but I will say Roch notified many students late (mid to late July for us, but some of my d's friends were later). It very much limited where she was able to apply. And our FAFSA was submitted Dec. 1.
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  • brantlybrantly 3919 replies69 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    So ... my question: What is the obligation of the college? Is it ethical to reduce FA to the point that a student has to drop out? Doesn't 60% sound like A LOT? Are there ethical guidelines from a national body/association of financial aid professionals?
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  • thumper1thumper1 74205 replies3245 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    edited September 10
    Colleges can change their need based awarding policies. They just can. And they do. But most schools that meet full need continue to do so as long as family finances don’t change.

    This is not governed by anyone except each college.

    The Rochester aid issue is not typical.
    edited September 10
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  • cshell2cshell2 404 replies5 threadsRegistered User Member
    We're considering adding University of Dayton to our applications just because they guarantee your net price to be the same for all 4 years. That's actually kind of huge to me because I don't want to be sweating it out every year wondering what the next FA package is going to be.
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  • taverngirltaverngirl 885 replies20 threadsRegistered User Member
    @cshell2 And/or add schools where you're eligible for nice merit awards (that don't require maintaining a high gpa).
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  • mommdcmommdc 11331 replies31 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    An income increase of about $3,000 can increase FAFSA EFC by $1,000.

    It could also result from going from two students in college to one.

    If the student got more aid last year and it was reduced by about half that could have many reasons.

    Unless you know how much they received.

    My kids got their sophomore and later FA award in June. And the semester bill came out in July, due in August. We definitely knew how much (or little) aid we were getting.

    So these students went off to school not knowing how much they owed the school for the semester?

    If they were verified and had to submit tax transcripts or something, that still shouldn't take until August.

    I have heard of some meet full need schools expecting a higher student contribution after the first year, but I think they spell that out clearly in their FA policies.
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  • LuckyCharms913LuckyCharms913 1034 replies15 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    Like @mommdc, I wonder if the decrease is due to a second child leaving school or graduating.

    E.g., family EFC as calculated by the college was $60,000 last year with two in college, so family paid $36,000 (60% of EFC) and need based aid covered $34,000 (based on COA of $70,000).

    This year, with just one in college, need drops and family is expected to pay full EFC of $60,000. COA rises 5%. Need based aid goes from $34,000 to $13,500, a 60% decrease.

    I could be barking up the wrong tree here. (And that’s a regional phrase if I ever heard one).
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  • sybbie719sybbie719 20718 replies1996 threadsSuper Moderator Super Moderator
    I do not believe that there is a bait and switch going on. As others have stated we have no idea as to what went into these decisions.

    There are many things that can happen to change a financial aid package; a one time financial review for unreimbursed medical expenses that you may not be able to take in subsequent years the hurricane hit your house last year, but you are ok this year, , loss of job income but family still received a large severance package, inheritances, etc. Families breaking up, non-custodial refuses to pay and there is an expectation that the school will pick up the slack (see the NYU thread).

    People also forget the subltle shifts that happen each year as the student contribution goes up as there is an expectation that Egbert will get a summer job to help offset some of the college expenses along with the increased level of sub and unsub loans that the student is eligible to borrow.

    As @LuckyCharms913 stated, families do not think about life situations that happen while students are in college (especially if you have more than one attending).

    Also @LuckyCharms913 stated, the biggest change in need based aid happens when you have multiple children in college and students begin to graduate. Many schools do not count grad students as a student in school even though the grad student may be part of your household and you as a family decided to help fund graduate school.
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  • thumper1thumper1 74205 replies3245 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    IIRC, @taverngirl explained that in her situation, there was a small salary increase or something...but nothing that would explain a significant drop in need based aid.

    Still...I maintain that this situation is an outlier. This is not the norm for schools that meet full need for all.
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  • cptofthehousecptofthehouse 29210 replies57 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    Yes, schools can and often do reduce your financial aid package after freshman year. They usually have some policy of students contributing more to their own education each year. Even selective colleges do have this philosophy in place. They expect students work during the summer, the school year and contribute more. Direct loan amounts are increased a bit each year to support this policy.

    A lot of things can happen to reduce aid that people think are terribly unfair. Like Dad takes on an extra job, mom goes back to work, a retirement windfall. A sibling in college graduates or drops out or goes part time or transfers. Because increasing income can also increase the percent of it assessed towards the EFC, the results can be significant. Parents get an income allowance and then are hit at 22-46(?) % of income. So each marginal increase gets hit really hard. That the income also gets hit by marginal income tax as well as social security can mean that the hits can leave that new income with little or no money in pocket.

    Sometimes the student gets a windfall in the summer, a high paying internship, gift from s relative, something innocent sounding that ratchets up that EFC terribly. When it comes to PROFILE, because they can have their own quirky rules, a student can fall into that quagmire. That it takes time sometimes for that affect to hit, since income and FAFSa are two years off, the connection is often lost or forgotten. That happens to parents too, they sometimes dont remember what years Of income are used for what school years of aid.

    Friends of ours inherited money one year, which was going to increase EFC by 6% of value of those assets. Except they sold a property and yes, that was income which got hit as lot harder, and then insult upon injury, included in the assets and hit again!

    A combination of factors can really cause financial problems.

    IMO, financial aid officers, and offices are terribly run and insensitive to the havoc and grief they create. Not all, I’m sure there are some that give more personal attention than the ones Ive encountered but it has amazed me as to how terrible these offices are at colleges that are magnificent otherwise. There is a lot if improvement that could be mDe in this department.

    I think those schools that are getting the rep and rap for front loading and pulling the aid carpet out from under students need to revamp their practices. Any stuff t whose financial aid is going down below a certain point should be given an explanation for the decrease, and the parent as well after student release. Everyone should understand EXACTLY why the decrease occurred.

    Blanket statements like aid won’t increase if income stays about the same should be avoided. Sale of a house, a sibling out of college, all sorts of things can change the financial aid picture along with a change in the amount an upper classman would be expected to contribute vs a freshman. Stuff happen all of the time that can trigger an increase in EFC that doesn’t occur to families.

    It is unethical IMO for a college to drop aid beyond a few thousand in increased responsibility on part of the student unless an event occurs that warrants it. Yes, if you get a pension or other distribution , you can get zinged. Sometimes it doesn’t even have to be a taxable event—PROFILE schools have their own rules. Gifts to the kid can get hit. I know s kid who got hit because non custodial dad paid tuition one year—yeah, that increases kids EFC A LOT—them’s The rules.

    But yes, if the FAFSA or PROFILE numbers go up 60%, it is not only ethical for the costs to go up correspondingly, they should.

    This is not an admonishment or accusation towards ANYONE who might have been treated unfairly by a college financial aid office. I have no doubt it happens , given what I’ve seen in the poor caliber of financial aid people. However,!oftentimes there is a valid reason. Unfair, but valid and covered in the rules of financial aid.

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  • brantlybrantly 3919 replies69 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    Thank you, everyone, for your replies. I understand the rules of financial aid. I would understand a decrease in aid based on the rules. I won't be happy, but I will understand. What scares me is a random, gratuitous decrease in aid that does not appear to follow known formulas.

    University of Rochester is a meets-full-need school, so it is surprising to hear the story from @taverngirl .
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  • brantlybrantly 3919 replies69 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    mommdc wrote: »
    So these students went off to school not knowing how much they owed the school for the semester?

    Yeah, I found that kind of odd too.
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  • 3puppies3puppies 1727 replies12 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    When there is an aid reduction that significant from a needs-met school, they will generally be more than happy to explain why. Sometimes, something simple like the redemption of assets to pay for school, and it gets counted as income. We redeemed US savings bonds to pay for part of the college bill, and the next year the aid was affected. (Now, it would be 2 years later.) But after a conversation with the FA office, they were able to make an adjustment to their formula as we no longer had the assets.

    For those of us needing significant FA, we want to be sure we do everything right, but sometimes a call with the FA office is necessary.

    A student who gets a decent paid internship has to be careful - the student should pay down expenses like school, to show as little assets as possible on the measurement date. I have heard of students who earned a lot over the summer, to pay for the winter/spring term, but left those assets in their own account and applied for aid before paying the second term. It looks like the student has a lot of money left and the school assumes it is still there for the following year, so they reduced the FA offer.
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  • twoinanddonetwoinanddone 22642 replies15 threadsRegistered User Senior Member
    There are also merit awards that are lost because of gpa and those funds are not replaced with need based aid. I know the OP is asking about a 'meets full need' school, but that can still be an issue.

    My motto was 'I don't care what the aid is called, just keep it coming' but it really does matter. My D's merit award was set the first year and didn't go up as tuition went up (and up and up). Tuition had gone up almost $10k since the first year we looked at the cost (senior year in hs) and the time she graduated. No adjustment to aid, except Pell went up about $300/yr. Is it a drop in FA? No, but my pockets still felt the pain.
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