Professional Judgement is the process of reviewing an individual student's unique circumstances and exercising the option to change the data elements normally applied through the Department of Education Federal Methodology (FM) formula on the FAFSA application that helps compute a student’s family contribution. Professional judgment changes are made when the financial aid administrator judges the standards used to determine the family contribution are inappropriate for purposes of calculating eligibility for financial aid due to extenuating circumstances. Normally, it comes as a result of a change in the student and/or family’s income or asset information as reported on the FAFSA.
Changes to FM are done only through individual data element changes and on an individual, case-by-case basis. Substitutions of data elements that result in a changed family contribution are thoroughly documented in the student file, recomputed in and generate a valid ISIR through correction in FAA Access to CPS Online or through Campus Logic.
While maintaining the flexibility to respond to individual student circumstances, the Financial Aid Office also strives for consistency in treatment of students with similar unusual circumstances. When unusual student cases arise, or students appeal award decisions, they are reviewed by the Financial Aid Specialist in a committee review. The Associate Dean and/or Director may be consulted on an appeal if deemed necessary.
Santa Monica College uses Department of Education software to re-compute the family contribution both for corrections to reported data and for changes resulting when professional judgment is exercised. Therefore, when changes are made to a student's or parents' analysis of financial need, single data element changes resulting from receipt of corrected, updated, or enhanced information are entered and the revised family contribution is automatically recalculated. The changed EFC is used for eligibility determination for all programs. No payment is made on Pell Grant until a valid ISIR is received.
Potential Reasons for Exercise of Professional Judgment
All professional judgment changes apply only to data element changes and apply to
all Title IV programs.
A. Satisfactory Academic Progress
- Financial Aid Specialists will be granted the use of “professional judgment” when participating on the Financial Aid Appeal Committee. Thus, for financial aid appeals purposes, Financial Aid Specialists on Appeal Committees have the ability to “override” the SAP status and make an SAP ineligible student—eligible for financial aid.
- The Associate Dean of Financial Aid and Scholarships and the Director of Financial Aid, as administrators, also have the ability to “override” the SAP status of a student—based on the student’s appeal.
B. Change of Dependency Status
- The ability to change the dependency status is only granted to the Associate Dean and Director.
- Students submitting requests to have their dependency status changed from dependent to independent are required to submit documentation that clearly indicates extenuating circumstances with the students and parental relationship. Students who were raised by family members other than their parents would also be considered for a dependency over-ride. Documentation must be verifiable. Support letters should come from “independent” sources not associated with the student—such as a counselor, teacher, medical professional, social worker, or religious leader. All documentation needs to have contact information from the individual writing the letter—including their address and phone number(s).
C . Drop of Income and Income Adjustments
- The ability to use professional judgment for adjustments of data elements on the ISIR is granted to the Appeals Committee, Associate Dean and/or Director.
- All income adjustments must be done on a case-by-case basis.
- All income adjustments must be used to address special circumstances where the data elements on the ISIR—based on income from the base year—no longer reflect the family’s (or student’s) ability to contribute to the student’s education.
- When making the adjustment, it is appropriate to take into account a changed circumstance that affects the student’s (or family’s) current and near-term economic situation. A loss of employment or reduction in work hours can be considered.
- When making the adjustment, projected earnings can be used.
- Third party documentation of changed circumstances should be used, whenever possible, to document the request for professional judgment. In addition, students (and parents) will need to submit a formal request for an assessment of special circumstances.
- Adjustments on all “dollar” data elements that affect the EFC are allowed by law, including unemployment. These adjustments, however, must be documented along with the reason for the use of professional judgment.