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Photo: Matthew Dembicki

Flexibility on ‘professional judgment’

The U.S. Education Department (ED) is reminding student financial aid administrators of their ability to make it easier for those who are unemployed or have received unemployment assistance to get federal aid for postsecondary education.

In a January 29 letter, the department noted that aid administrators have authority under the Higher Education Act to engage in “professional judgment” — a process that allows them to adjust factors that play into a student’s eligibility for federal financial aid, such as their income. The letter informs administrators that at all times — but especially during the national pandemic — they may set income from work to zero for a student or parent who received unemployment benefits. This, in turn, may make applicants eligible for a Pell Grant or possibly a larger loan award.

“We will continue to monitor and enforce requirements for appropriate use of professional judgment but recognize that appropriate use of professional judgment by a school is likely to increase in the current economic environment,” ED said in the letter.

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