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Harvard Among Schools Providing Unclear Financial Aid Instructions, Congressional Committee Alleges

By Theodore R. Delwiche, Crimson Staff Writer

UPDATED: February 7, 2014, at 2:17 p.m.

Harvard, along with 110 other institutions of higher education, may be illegally misleading prospective students by providing unclear financial aid instructions, according to an investigation announced Monday by the Democratic staff of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

“It appears that 111 schools may be contravening the requirements of the Higher Education Act by explicitly requiring applicants to submit forms other than the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or by failing to make clear that only the FAFSA is required to be considered for federal student aid,” wrote Maryland Congressman Elijah E. Cummings—the ranking Democrat on the committee—in a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne S. Duncan '86 on Monday.

A spokesperson for Cummings wrote in an email to The Crimson that no schools were contacted during the investigation.

The Higher Education Act, amended by Congress in 1992, provides that higher education institutions must only use the free FAFSA form to determine federal financial aid for prospective students.

The CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE, a form administered by the College Board, helps colleges and universities determine specific levels of institutional aid, but is not needed for purposes of determining federal financial aid. Students must pay $25 to submit the PROFILE to one institution, and $16 for each after that. Students whose parents’ net assets exceed $33,720 are not eligible for are eligible for fee waivers provided by the College Board.

The committee’s investigation claimed that students could be spending money on the PROFILE, when in fact they need only to fill out the FAFSA for federal financial aid. In addition to its place on the list of 111 schools which included every Ivy League university other than PrincetonHarvard was also accused of advising all students to fill out the FAFSA and PROFILE “without any explanation of use or purpose.”

Several universities have decided to change the wording on their financial aid websites in the wake of the Committee’s investigation, including Yale and the University of Pennsylvania.

“To be certain there is no further misunderstanding, we have reworked the language on our website to make this more clear,” Ron Ozio, the director of media relations for Penn, said in a statement to Bloomberg News.

Since the letter became public, the instructions on Harvard’s financial aid site have not changed. FAS spokesperson Jeff Neal wrote in an email that the University is still committed to providing clear information.

“We continuously review the information we provide to applicants and studentsboth online and in many daily interactions with financial aid officersand will continue working to ensure that our students have the clear guidance they need to access the federal and Harvard-funded aid to which they are entitled,” Neal wrote.

Even if an applicant does not automatically qualify for a PROFILE fee waiver from the College Board, that student can contact Harvard directly to cover the cost, Neal added.

He also wrote that in almost every case, financial aid applicants should fill out both the FAFSA and PROFILE anyway.

“With few exceptions, nearly every Harvard College student who receives need-based federal aid is also eligible for Harvard aid, making it important that nearly every aid applicant completes both forms,” Neal wrote.

—Staff writer Theodore R. Delwiche can be reached at theodore.delwiche@thecrimson.com

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