Cummings says colleges misleading applicants about financial aid

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland alleged this week that more than 100 universities, including Goucher College and Loyola University Maryland, are violating federal law by requiring applicants to fill out extra forms that determine their eligibility for financial aid.

In a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Monday, Cummings said 111 universities required applicants to submit a financial aid form other than the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or failed to make clear that only the FAFSA was necessary. Democratic staff from the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform examined the financial aid practices of about 200 universities around the country in the review, according to Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat.

About half of the universities, including Goucher and Loyola, tell applicants via their websites that they should submit a financial aid form developed by the College Board that's known as the PROFILE. That form costs $25 to submit to one university and $16 for every university it's sent to thereafter. Financial aid awards, which often include federal funds, are made by individual universities.

"Although they make clear in other materials that the PROFILE form is not required to determine eligibility for federal financial aid, the materials identified during this investigation may be the only information potential applicants see before deciding whether to apply," Cummings wrote.

Officials with both Goucher and Loyola defended their use of the PROFILE and said that because it takes into account things that the FAFSA doesn't — like home equity and some business income — it allows universities to make fairer decisions on who needs aid the most. Both universities plan to continue to use the form.

"Goucher feels there is a real risk in telling prospective students/families that they only need to submit FAFSA if they wish to be considered for federal aid solely," Goucher spokeswoman Kristen Pinheiro said in an email. "Some families may not understand that colleges/universities typically award much more financial aid than the federal government could possibly provide."

Nick Alexopulos, a Loyola spokesman, said the university does not deny any applicant federal aid if they do not complete the PROFILE, but that the form helps them distribute aid in the "most fair and equitable way possible."

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