The College recently changed its online financial aid instructions to ensure that they comply with federal law, according to Director of Student Aid Michael Bartini.
The changes came after Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent a letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on February 3.
In the letter, Cummings alleged that 111 institutions were violating federal law by requiring applicants for federal aid to fill out forms in addition to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), or by failing to make clear that only the FAFSA was required.
Amendments made to the Higher Education Act in 1992 prohibit institutions from using any form other than the FAFSA to determine federal financial aid.
Bowdoin was not named in Cummings’ letter, but clarified its instructions anyway.
Previously, the College’s instructions made no mention of applicants for federal aid, but stated, “Candidates for financial aid must file the 2014-15 College Scholarship Service (CSS) PROFILE to be eligible for Bowdoin grant support.”
Since this statement refers only to eligibility for Bowdoin grants, it does not violate federal law, but the College added a paragraph to its instructions to ensure that it was not misleading students wishing to apply exclusively for federal aid.
“The FAFSA is required to determine eligibility for all sources of federal assistance. If all you wish to do is apply for federal aid, then completing the FAFSA is your only requirement,” the new online paragraph reads.
There are few Bowdoin students who only apply for federal aid, according to Bartini.
“For the most part I don’t get many students who say, ‘Mike, all I really want is federal funds,” he said. “You get a few each year who recognize they’re not eligible for our resources, but they do want to apply for a federal loan.”
Bartini said that applicants for Bowdoin grants must file the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE because it asks for more information from applicants than the FAFSA does.
“The FAFSA is a condensed version of the questions being asked on the PROFILE,” he said. “We get a far more expanded display of income and asset information about the family [from the PROFILE],” Bartini says. “What we’re trying to do is direct our resources to our neediest students and the PROFILE helps us do that.”
The PROFILE is a form created by the College Board that comes with a $25 fee the first time a student sends it to a college and a $16 fee for each additional college. Bartini said that these fees could be waived if they are too expensive for a student.
“There are several avenues in which there are fee waivers. College Board offers fee waivers. The College offers fee waivers,” he said. “The profile fee should not be a barrier. Contact us and we’ll work something out for you.”