Accidental FAFSA errors may cause shift in aid packages for thousands

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This week, the U.S. Department of Education is reprocessing thousands of federal financial aid applications for students who accidentally misreported their income, including some from UC Berkeley.

The re-evaluation process focuses on about 200,000 applicants across the country who overreported their income values on their online 2014-15 Free Application for Federal Student Aid. As a result, these applicants may have an incorrect status of eligibility for subsidized aid, such as federal Pell Grants, which 38 percent of UC Berkeley undergraduate students receive.

Fewer than 20 UC Berkeley students are expected to be affected, because the campus was able to detect this issue early on, according to Rachelle Feldman, assistant vice chancellor and director of financial aid and scholarships. UC Berkeley participates in the Quality Assurance Program, a federal initiative that aims to maintain strong student aid delivery.

In the application, students are instructed to provide monetary values to the nearest dollar for the income earned from work field. Some students who didn’t see the “.00” — indicating cents — outside of the box entered in an extra decimal point. The system automatically ignored the extra decimal point, so entering 20,000.50 would cause a value of $2,000,050 to be used in calculating an applicant’s expected family contribution.

The Department of Education sent new financial reports this week to those who made the mistake and their respective schools.

“We are currently reviewing applications submitted since January 1 and will issue revised expected family contribution amounts for all impacted applicants within the coming weeks,” said Jane Glickman, spokesperson for the Department of Education, in an email.

On July 1, changes were made to the FAFSA website to prevent this type of reporting error from happening again, including an enhancement that completely disregards any decimals or cent values inputted.
“As someone who hasn’t been doing taxes for years, it can be confusing,” said Leah Daoud, a UC Berkeley junior who relies on Cal Grant aid money, regarding how user friendly FAFSA can be.
Jessica Rodriguez, a UC Berkeley senior who has received a Pell Grant for four years, agreed but said bigger problems exist than remembering not to include cents when filling out FAFSA.

“Terms can be confusing, but inputting information isn’t too difficult,” she said. “Unique situations can’t be accounted for.”

The Department of Education dealt first with people who were deemed eligible for aid but may no longer be, and it is now dealing with those who may be entitled to aid but were deemed ineligible because of the error.

“The Financial Aid and Scholarships Office will work with any affected students to be sure they have the appropriate financial aid they need as the school year begins,” Feldman said in an email.

According to Feldman, affected students on campus will be contacted via email, and any questions or concerns should be directed to Cal Student Central in Sproul Hall.

Staff writer Lydia Tuan contributed to this report.

Contact Sumaiya Mubarack at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @sumaiyamubarack.