• Cullen and Dykman LLP Blogs

  • Archives

  • More Than 100 Elite Schools Violate The Higher Education Act

    More than 100 colleges and universities have been implicated for allegedly violating the Higher Education Act by creating illegal hurdles for students seeking financial aid.

    The Higher Education Act prohibits any entity from charging a fee for “the collection, processing or delivery of financial aid through” the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly known as FAFSA. U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), a member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, recently sent a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, identifying 111 institutions that

    may be contravening the requirements of the Higher Education Act by explicitly requiring applicants to submit forms other than the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or by failing to make clear that only the FAFSA is required to be considered for federal student aid. Instead, these institutions appear to be establishing additional requirements for students to complete costly additional forms, including the fee-based College Board’s CSS/Financial Aid Profile, to be considered for any financial aid. Congress banned this practice in 1992 because it creates undue hurdles for students seeking federal student aid.

    The CSS/Financial Aid Profile, which costs a minimum of $25, was developed by the College Board and is used to determine how much financial aid an institution or the state government may award a potential applicant. While schools are undoubtedly allowed to utilize fee-based forms to determine eligibility for nonfederal aid, they must clearly explain to applicants that in order to be considered for federal financial aid, a potential applicant only needs to complete the FAFSA form.

    Fifty-eight of the 111 identified schools allegedly informed applicants the CSS/Financial Aid Profile form was needed “in order to secure any type of financial aid, including federal student aid,” wrote Cummings.  Fifty-three of these identified schools allegedly instructed applicants to “submit both the FAFSA and the PROFILE to obtain federal financial aid, although they do not clarify what each form is used to assess.”

    Cummings has asked for a meeting with Secretary Duncan in order to guarantee that colleges “are not creating improper and unnecessary barriers to the federal assistance that is so critical to enabling students to pursue their academic and professional dreams.”

    In light of this most recent controversy, colleges and universities must review, and if need be, adopt, policies and procedures to ensure they are not creating improper barriers to federal assistance and that they are providing clear and accurate information to all financial aid applicants.

    If your institution has questions or concerns about this topic and you would like further information, please email James G. Ryan at jryan@cullenanddykman.com or call him at (516) 357-3750. This article was written with Hayley Dryer, an associate at the firm.