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Northfield-based St. Olaf College altered its website on Tuesday to make clear the distinction between the financial aid forms it uses.

BRUCE BISPING • bbisping@startribune.com,

Congressman says colleges violated financial aid rules

  • Article by: Maura Lerner
  • Star Tribune
  • February 4, 2014 - 7:10 PM

A congressional review has concluded that 111 colleges and universities, including Macalester and St. Olaf colleges in Minnesota, may have violated federal rules by instructing students to fill out more than one form and pay a fee to qualify for financial aid.

In a letter to the U.S. Department of Education on Monday, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., criticized the schools for “failing to make clear” that students can apply for federal aid with a single form, known as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

By law, schools cannot require additional forms or fees to qualify for federal aid. However, many colleges and universities require a second form, known as the College Board PROFILE, for their own scholarships and financial aid programs. The fee for that form ranges from $16 to $25 per student.

Officials at both Minnesota colleges said there was no intent to mislead anyone. “We certainly don’t want to confuse folks,” said Brian Lindeman, director of financial aid at Macalester in St. Paul.

He said that the school’s website encourages students to fill out the federal and PROFILE forms to qualify for as much financial aid as possible and that the fees are waived for low-income students.

“I can see that our instructions could be more clear,” he said Tuesday.

St. Olaf, in Northfield, changed its website Tuesday to clarify the rules. “Our website now makes a clearer distinction between the forms,” Sandy Sundstrom, the financial aid director, said in an e-mail. At the same time, she added, “it is in nearly every St. Olaf student’s best interest to complete [both forms] because institutional aid is usually the larger part of their financial aid package.”

Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said his staff had reviewed more than 200 colleges and universities, and concluded that more than half — including Harvard, Yale and Stanford — did not follow the rules. Their practices, he wrote, could create “undue hurdles for students seeking federal student aid.”

 

Maura Lerner • 612-673-7384

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