House committee names Duke among institutions creating aid ‘hurdles’

Feb. 04, 2014 @ 07:16 PM

Democrats within the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform sent a letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan this week naming 111 institutions that appear to complicate the federal financial aid application process.

Duke University was on this list, although the university states that additional forms are needed to ensure students receive the full amount of available financial aid, federal or otherwise.

The committee on Monday asked the U.S. Department of Education to warn schools that may be in violation of federal law and enforce the requirements of the Higher Education Act.

According to Higher Education Act amendments dating back to 1992, federal financial aid applicants are only required to submit one free form, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), to determine eligibility.

The statutes prohibit institutions from using any other forms and charging fees to determine eligibility for federal financial aid.

The letter states that the House committee has evaluated financial aid application information of more than 200 colleges and universities, and the review found that 111 schools may misrepresent or make unclear the steps that students must take when applying for federal financial aid.

“These institutions appear to be establishing additional requirements for students to complete costly additional forms, including the fee-based PROFILE form developed by the College Board, to be considered for any financial aid.

“Congress banned this practice in 1992 because it creates undue hurdles for students seeking federal financial aid,” the letter continues.

However, Duke requires students to fill out both the FAFSA and PROFILE forms if they want to be considered for federal aid, as well as additional grants from the university, according to Michael Schoenfeld, Duke’s vice president for public affairs and government relations.

Students who only want to apply for federal aid can just fill out the FAFSA form, Schoenfeld said in an email.

“Duke admits students without regard to their ability to pay and meets the full demonstrated financial need of those who do enroll, an investment of more than $130 million in university funds this year,” he said.

The financial-aid checklist on Duke’s website is divided into four parts for regular-decision students whose parents aren’t separated or divorced.

Students must submit the FAFSA form online by March 1 to determine eligibility for federal financial aid.

But students also need to fill out the College Board’s PROFILE, a form students use to apply for nonfederal financial aid from about 400 colleges and scholarship programs, by March 1.

The third step on the website is for families to submit tax forms and wage statements to College Board’s Institutional Documentation Service by March 1.

Students must pay $25 to submit the PROFILE form to one institution and $16 to submit to each additional institution. The process to waive fees is unclear, according to the House committee’s letter.

Schoenfeld said that the university requires additional information about family financial circumstances if a student needs financial support beyond the federal level, and most do. That information comes from PROFILE, and if students cannot afford the fees, they can request a waiver, he added. 

“We are reviewing the instructions on our website to make sure this distinction is clear, which is important, but have no plans to change our process or the requirement that both forms be submitted to qualify for the full range of financial aid available at Duke,” he said.

Spokeswoman Jane Glickman with the U.S. Department of Education said in an email Tuesday that the department has received the letter from the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and is reviewing it.