More college aid for students of unemployed parents?

So you’ve been saving for years for your kid’s education. Then the economy tanks and suddenly the college dough you’d put in a stock fund is worth half what you planned. You try to tap your home equity line of credit but find you don’t have that much equity anymore. Then you lose your job.

You may have been fine last fall when your child applied to all those schools. Now it’s college acceptance season and things aren’t fine anymore. What do you do?

Tell the college.

One of our Public Insight Network members told us this week that one of the schools his son applied to upped the financial aid package after hearing that dad lost his job.

Paul Landskroener, a lawyer, was laid off in December. He told us:

Colleges were very eager last fall to write to say that we shouldn’t worry about the dismal financial news, that they were committed to meeting financial need via financial aid.

By and large, this has proven true. Only one college (Earlham), however, has increased its financial aid offer after learning of our unemployment. This now makes Earlham the most likely place he will go.”

Family income plays a big role in how colleges typically calculate financial aid. If they based the package on income you don’t have anymore, some will reconsider.

If a parent or student becomes unemployed their need for financial aid changes and financial aid offices can use “professional judgment” to accommodate for recent changes to a families ability to pay for college. That can make them eligible for more financial aid, says Holly Chitty with the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.

Changes in employment are a standard appeal to colleges to adjust aid packages, says Steve Bjork, a Public Insight Network member who’s director of college counseling at St. Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights and former admissions director at Hamline University. He said:

Students can appeal to financial aid offices with changes in family income (job change, loss of of job, etc), additional dependents, extraordinary medical expenses, etc.

Families submit documentation via the college’s process and the schools evaluate to determine if additional aid can be awarded. Given that a lot of the country’s job loss was after January 1 — colleges are expecting more appeals.

Landskorener says his family also hopes to use the enhanced college tax credit in the federal stimulus package.

Is the economy changing how colleges court new students or the choices those students and families must make? Drop us a line or keep the conversation going below.

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