Amendment to Section 480(d) of the Higher Education Act of 1965

  • by: Ami Fazchas
  • target: Your Local Senator or Representative!

EXCERPT FROM "
US Department of Education
Dear Colleague Letter GEN-03-07"

Section 480(d) of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended (HEA), defines an independent student as someone who fits into one or more of six specific categories. Under these categories a student is independent if he or she -

 

  1. Is 24 years of age or older by December 31 of the award year;
  2. Is an orphan or ward of the court or was a ward of the court until the individual reached the age of 18;
  3. Is a veteran of the Armed Forces of the United States;
  4. Is a graduate or professional student;
  5. Is a married individual; or
  6. Has legal dependents other than a spouse. 

US Department of Education
Dear Colleague Letter GEN-03-07

 

 

GEN-03-07: Dependency Overrides

May 2003

GEN-03-07

Subject: Dependency Overrides

SUMMARY: This letter discusses the conditions that support the use of dependency overrides by financial aid administrators and reminds schools of the documentation required by the Department for such dependency overrides.

Dear Colleague:

In the course of conducting recent compliance reviews of institutions participating in the Federal student aid programs, we found that some institutions have not been properly following the statutory requirements for making dependency overrides as well as not adequately supporting their dependency override decisions with sufficient documentation. In working to improve compliance at these institutions, we have determined that issuing comprehensive guidance that reviews the conditions for making dependency overrides and documenting these overrides would help improve compliance with these requirements at all schools participating in the Title IV, HEA programs.

Background

Section 480(d) of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended (HEA), defines an independent student as someone who fits into one or more of six specific categories. Under these categories a student is independent if he or she -

 

  1. Is 24 years of age or older by December 31 of the award year;
  2. Is an orphan or ward of the court or was a ward of the court until the individual reached the age of 18;
  3. Is a veteran of the Armed Forces of the United States;
  4. Is a graduate or professional student;
  5. Is a married individual; or
  6. Has legal dependents other than a spouse.

In addition, an individual who does not qualify as an independent student under one of these six categories may be considered an "independent student" under section 480(d)(7) of the HEA. Under that provision, a student is considered to be an independent student if he or she;

. . . is a student for whom a financial aid administrator makes a documented determination of independence by reason of other unusual circumstances.

We call such a determination by a financial aid administrator a "dependency override." ...

Pages 28 and 29 of the Department's 2002-2003 Application and Verification Guide (AVG) emphasize the need to make dependency overrides only for students with unusual circumstances on a case-by-case basis and to document the unusual circumstances that the financial aid administrator relied upon in making the override. In recent years, the AVG has identified four conditions that, individually or in combination with one another, do not qualify as "unusual circumstances" or that do not merit a dependency override. Those circumstances are:

 

  1. Parents refusing to contribute to the student's education;
  2. Parents unwilling to provide information on the application or for verification;
  3. Parents not claiming the students as a dependent for income tax purposes;
  4. Student demonstrating total self-sufficiency.
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This excerpt shows that there is a large loophole denying what is likely 1000's of willing students.
Hi my name is Ami, and I was turned down for financial aid.
Lets run through the problems myself and may friends are havig with this system shall we? 
  • Is 24 years of age or older by December 31 of the award year;
    What is the reasoning behind this age hike? We are infact considered fully adult at 18 in this country, the last time I checked. If not then, surely many of us are instituiononally independent by drinking age, ala 21.
    This is in fact pointless mongering for a way to give out less help.

    WE ARE NOT ALL TRUST FUND BABIES! Not everyone can count on parental support one day after they 18 (some before).
    • My situation: My mother moved to California one day after my high school graduation. Now 22 (23 in September), I have not received any financial support from her since 2004! Over 4 years. I have been filing tax claims and marking myself as independent (non-claimable by any other person). I have made at least $15,000 by my self during those years.
Bottom Line: The Federal Government in affect agreed with me when they accepted my tax return, that I am financially independent. Why are they going back on their word now?
  • Is an orphan or ward of the court or was a ward of the court until the individual reached the age of 18;
    I am not ridiculing court wards or orphans out there, however simple internet research will show many smaller government programs and private sources offer scholarships to people in this category with no need for FAFSA forms (IE: OFA, AOA, Foresters, OSA, NMB Life, Nazaret, and many others). 
    • My situation: My parents have all but been absent in my life since I was 14. They're not dead, but it was never leagalized either.  I've actually lived with my grandparents since I was 14 until I moved out, 2 years ago.
Bottom line: Individuals who for varying reasons were legally ditched by their parents get a free pass at 18? While almost every one else must wait another 6 years?
  • Is a veteran of the Armed Forces of the United States;


    Bottom Line: This one is quite fair, except to oh I don't
    know...the disabled?!, those that were 4-f'd, or were not deemed physically correct for military service.  I would venture to guess that there are quite a few disabled young adults, who live full active lives independent of their parents before 24, who would like to continue their education.

  • Is a graduate or professional student;
    This is sort of ridiculous. How could this be a tenet for being independent? Surprisingly I know many people still welching off their parents after 4 years of college funded by mommy and daddy. Unfortunately I'm not one of them!
    • My situation: I love that this is a determiner for dependency, considering what I'm applying for aid in will eventually complete it.
Bottom Line: This is a big 'MAYBE' in the discretion of the DSFA; automatically considering that anyone with a 4 year degree doesn't get support from parents.  Almost as bad as considering that everyone who can answer no to all of the other questions, does. 
Not to mention, the frustrating run around of it: "I'm trying to get aid to achieve this but I can't, because I don't already have it"


  • Is a married individual
    Ironically this is a bit like the last question and , a horrible determinant of dependency, a bad assumption of lack of parental support, and a loop hole to the age requirement everyone else has to meet.
    Why? 18 is the legal age to wed in all states, and as young as 15 with parental consent in some. This lets those who A) get permission from parents or B) wed at 18 have access to something many others again have to wait 6 years for. So theoretically, someone who gets married by permission at 15 and continues to live with parent and new husband or wife can get a free pass.

    • My situation: Sounds like the government is forcing the hand at marriage, which is a right of mine to deny until I deem myself ready. Sorry Uncle Sam, that's not going to happen be before I'm 24. It's just not going to work out that way. I can't honestly believe the gov. would carrot dangle financial aid money to get a joint file on the tax rolls, and if thats not what's happening it sure feels like it.


      Bottom Line: this is an unfair forcible determinant, to a large number of people in consideration. No one should have to enter in to a legal union to be able to continue their education.


  • Has legal dependents other than a spouse.
    Bottom line: Even though this doesn't apply to me it does make sense, as many people in the 18-24 range may have children or other family members they take care of and be unmarried. As I see it they are probably those that need aid the most urgently.
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Now lets take a look at what the DSFA and USDE do not consider good enough to qualify as independence:


  • Parents refusing to contribute to the student's education
  • Parents unwilling to provide information on the application or for verification; 
  • Parents not claiming the students as a dependent for income tax purposes; 
  • Student demonstrating total self-sufficiency.
This is a matter of discretion, 'case by case' I believe the letter reads. and should be evaluated. If it is found that there has been a longstanding estrangement (12 months ) in which time the student has established independent financial means (filed tax return, paid bills in name, rented/ bought a house in name) and has proof of the their income (at least 50%, the federal definition of independence) being provided by themselves.
The last one is most laughable, demonstrating total self-suffciency; You mean, being independent of your parents?  Who would have guessed being independent of your parents doesn't qualify you as independent.
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