The Higher Education Act of 1992 allows financial aid administrators to make professional judgment decisions for special or unusual family or student circumstances. These circumstances must be documented. The director of the FAO must analyze circumstances requiring professional judgment decisions on a case-by-case basis.
Aid administrators may treat a student with special circumstances differently than the strict application of the methodology would otherwise permit. Adjustments can either increase or decrease a student's EFC or cost of attendance. In the case of an adjustment to a student's EFC or cost of attendance, specified adjustments may be made to data elements. The reason for the adjustment must relate to that student's special circumstances and must be documented in the student's file.
Areas of Administration
Professional judgment decisions may be made to adjust eligibility for all institutional, Title IV, and campus-based aid. Documentation supporting special circumstances must be maintained in the student's folder attached to the Special Circumstance and/or Dependency Override form.
The director of the FAO has the authority to adjust a student’s eligibility using professional judgment.
Student circumstances, which may warrant a professional judgment decision include, but are not limited to:
- Cancellation of parental contribution due to an abusive or an estranged relationship with a family member. A signed letter from a priest, a rabbi, a therapist, or an adult, non-family member would be an example of appropriate documentation. If possible, three letters documenting the situation should be collected.
- Cancellation of parental contribution due to parental abandonment of the student. A letter from an adult explaining the circumstances of the abandonment would be appropriate documentation. Typically, another adult is assisting the student (lives with a grandparent, a girlfriend/boyfriend's parent). If the student is receiving other assistance, in-kind support should be checked and documented.
- The director of the FAO reserves the right to deny any request for a dependency override.
- If an independent student, a dependent student, or parents of a dependent student have had a loss or change in income, they may request a professional judgment review of their file.
- If a student or the parents in a dependent student situation have extensive out-of-pocket medical expenses, an income reduction may be done at the discretion of the director of FAO. If there is private school tuition for elementary or high school, an income reduction may be requested. The director of the FAO reserves the right to deny any income reduction request.
Aid administrators are required to document professional judgment decisions. This documentation must be maintained in the student's file. Because professional judgment situations are unique, specific required documentation is not listed for each case. It is left to the discretion of the aid administrator to select what is appropriate documentation.
- Documentation should substantiate the student's situation.
- Typically, documentation should be from a professional outside the family and not a family member.
- If collecting documentation about a student's life situation, documentation from more than one person should be collected.