(Updated, Feb. 10, 9:12 a.m.)
PROVIDENCE – Four colleges in Rhode Island and one in southern Massachusetts are included on a list of schools that have allegedly failed to clarify which forms they required from students applying for financial aid, according to a Maryland congressman.
In a story first reported in the New Haven Register on Thursday, U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said that 111 colleges – including Brown University, Providence College, Roger Williams University, the Rhode Island School of Design and Wheaton College in Norton – did not make clear which financial aid forms were required for federal aid and which for institutional aid.
According to Cummings’ press release, an investigation by Democratic committee staff found that these 111 institutions appeared to be requiring students to complete costly additional forms, including the fee-based Profile form developed by the College Board, to be considered for any financial aid. The colleges, he said, either told potential applicants the Profile form was required to receive any financial aid, or did not clarify that to obtain federal financial aid students only needed to submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.
“Congress banned this practice in 1992 because it creates undue hurdles for students seeking federal student aid,” wrote Cummings. “I request that we meet to discuss how the department can address this issue by warning schools that this conduct may violate federal law and by fully enforcing the requirements of the Higher Education Act.”
“It’s just a matter of clarification,” said Steven Maurano, associate vice president of public affairs and community relations at Providence College. “We are now in compliance.”
Maurano said the college learned of the probe’s results on Tuesday and by Wednesday had adjusted its website to clarify the difference between applying for federal aid, for which only a free FAFSA is needed, and institutional aid, for which Providence College uses the Profile form.
The College Board charges $25 to submit the Profile form to one institution, and $16 for each additional institution.
“It was not abundantly clear that all a family or student needed to do was to fill out a FAFSA in order to qualify for federal financial aid,” Maurano said. “There’s an additional form known as a Profile which we require for students to fill out if they are applying for institutional financial aid. That wasn’t clear on our website. We still require the Profile form for institutional aid.”
Wheaton College was mostly in compliance but did amend one page on its website, said Michael Graca, a spokesman. Wheaton also learned of the problem on Tuesday.
“There was a page on our site that didn’t distinguish between the purpose of the Profile form and the FAFSA,” Graca said. “We have changed that. We also do link on our site to the federal government’s own information on the FAFSA.”
There were many other pages, including the primary application instructions page, that already made the distinction between the FAFSA and the Profile, he said.
Roger Williams also clarified the language on its website “to more clearly illustrate” the difference between the FAFSA and the Profile form, said Catherine Capolupo, vice president for enrollment management.
“Roger Williams has increased our commitment to university funded financial aid even while freezing the tuition for our full-time undergraduate students under our Affordable Excellence initiative,” she added.
RISD Director of Media Relations Jaime Marland said, “We strive to provide clear and comprehensive information about financial aid to our applicants. When this report suggested our information could be more clear, we updated the language on our website to further clarify the process.”
Brown University also has responded by updating its website, said Marisa Quinn, vice president for public affairs and university relations.
“Brown wants to eliminate any barriers that may inhibit families from pursuing the full range of resources available to attend Brown,” Quinn said in a statement. “We are working to modify the language on our website to reflect better the fact that to be considered for federal aid requires only the FAFSA. Eligibility for the nearly $100 million in Brown scholarship aid and certain other scholarships, requires completion of both [Profile] and FAFSA. Fee waivers apply automatically for qualifying low-income families.”