What Did Aid Administrators Perceive to Be the Impact of PPY on Students and Aid Offices?

Valerie A Mockus
Muma Business Review  •  Volume 3  •  2019  •  pp. 001-025
Through the 2016-2017 academic year, student aid applicants completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid used the immediately previous year’s tax information. Beginning in 2017-2018, students were required to use two-year-old tax return information creating a lag in the timeliness of financial health data used to calculate financial aid eligibility. This older data is called Prior-Prior Year (PPY) by the aid community.
Community members in support of the change expected college applicants to have more time to apply for aid and make decisions. Others articulated concerns that use of the older data would increase the likelihood of families requesting professional judgements (manually intensive calculations with more recent tax data), therefore significantly increasing the workload. Early detractors worried the older tax data would erode the accuracy of targeting aid to the right students.
This pilot phenomenological study investigates how financial aid administrators perceive the impact of the switch to PPY on students and financial aid offices. The findings were: the volume of professional judgements did not appear to increase; the Department of Education’s choice to re-ask for 2016 tax information and penalize students with discrepancies by withholding aid disbursements was objectionable; the administrative burden is worrisome; college affordability is of great concern; administrators, never coming to a career financial aid intentionally, find their work deeply meaningful.
This study finds the expected issue of an increased volume of PJs did not materialize but an unexpected issue of complying with comment code 399 requirements arose likely due to the Department of Education’s choice to not consult financial aid administrators during the design and implementation of PPY. As the first phenomenological study on PPY, this article provides administrators and researchers alike insight into opportunities for improvement in future FAFSA changes.
Student Financial Aid, FAFSA, Prior-Prior Year
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