The Ithaca College Office of Financial Services has made changes to its website after being accused of violating the Higher Education Act of 1965 by not clearly stating what forms are and are not required for students to receive federal financial aid. In an attempt to clarify its financial aid requirements, the college has added one word to the website.
U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent a letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on Feb. 3, citing 111 colleges and universities in violation of the Higher Education Act. According to the letter, the democratic staff of the committee found these schools in violation of the act after evaluating the financial aid requirements of more than 200 colleges and universities.
In 1992, the Higher Education Act was amended to state that students only needed to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid form in order to receive federal student aid. The letter said the schools would be violating the law by either requiring the College Scholarship Service Profile for federal aid or not explicitly stating that FAFSA is the only form students need to submit to receive federal aid.
The college currently requires new students to submit the CSS Profile in order to receive institutional aid, which is financial assistance that comes directly from the college, not the government. The CSS Profile, which is put out by the College Board, is an online aid application that includes personal financial information, the type of tax returns a family files and a family’s housing status.
To submit the CSS Profile, students must pay $25 for the first school and $16 for each additional school to which the applicant sends the profile. Lisa Hoskey, director of student financial services, said the College Board receives these funds, not the college itself.
Before Cummings identified the schools in violation of the law, the college’s financial services website stated, “All new students must submit the College Scholarship Service Profile to be considered for financial aid.” The college added the word “institutional” to the website to emphasize that the CSS Profile is not needed for federal student aid.
Hoskey said the CSS Profile gives the college a better idea of a student’s financial need.
“[The CSS Profile] gives us a more accurate picture of a family’s financial strength than the Federal form alone,” Hoskey said. “We encourage students to file the Profile because it helps us evaluate their eligibility for institutional dollars.”
Many colleges and universities use the CSS Profile as a supplement to the FAFSA. According to College Board, more than 400 colleges and scholarship programs require the CSS Profile.
Carly Lindaur, senior director of external communications for the College Board, said the College Board is not affected by Cummings’ allegations because the issue lies in the language that colleges and universities use in explaining their financial aid requirements. Lindaur said it is not illegal for colleges and universities to require students to submit the CSS Profile to receive institutional aid.
Students who choose not to submit the CSS Profile can still receive federal financial aid. Hoskey said the college cannot deny federal aid to students who do not submit the profile. She also said most students who apply for federal aid also apply for institutional aid, so only a small number of students choose not to submit the CSS Profile.
“As a practice, we do not deny students federal aid if they don’t file the profile,” Hoskey said. “If a student files the FAFSA, but doesn’t file the profile and they’re an incoming student, then we’ll send them a package that reflects the federal aid only, and then communicate with them saying, ‘You may want to consider filing the profile as well.’”
Cornell University was also included on the list of violators. The Cornell Office of Financial Aid and Student Employment lists the CSS Profile as a requirement on its website. John Carberry, director of press relations at Cornell, said in an email that students are not required to submit the CSS Profile to receive federal aid.
“We assure that students are treated in accordance with federal law as we help them navigate the process of securing financial aid,” Carberry said. “While the CSS/Financial Profile is not required to secure federal aid, it’s especially useful in helping our financial aid office build packages that meet the full financial needs of our families.”
Cornell has not made any changes to the financial aid requirements on its website at this time.